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  • Ed and Susie on camel

    Travel + Leisure Names Classic Journeys The World's Best Tour Operator for 2019

    On July 10, 2019, Travel + Leisure magazine announced their readers voted Classic Journeys #1, the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/" target="_blank">World&#39;s Best Tour Operator for 2019</a>. We&#39;ve been included in the World&#39;s Best rankings every year for more than a decade, and this is the second time in the last five years that travelers have voted us into the top spot. Shortly before the results were made public, we chatted with Founder Edward Piegza about how he learned the news, how it feels to earn this recognition, and what it means for travelers. <br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/worlds-best-tour-operator/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vxpP&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zVCu" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><b>Congratulations! How did you get the news?</b><br>I received a top-secret email and phone call from the editor of <i>Travel + Leisure</i> a few weeks ago with orders not to tell ANYONE. Friends and neighbors must have wondered why my smile has been so extra big lately. Now they know.<br><br><b>And how does it feel to be the World’s Best Tour Operator again?</b><br>Awesome. Humbling. So, so satisfying. Deeply gratifying to learn that we have achieved what we set out to do which is to handcraft trips of a lifetime for every guest who travels with us. I’m known as long-winded, so I could probably come up with 10 or 15 more ways to describe it if you want me to keep going.<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/galapagos-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vxpP&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zVDT" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><b>Why do you think Travel + Leisure gave you this recognition?</b><br>Actually, it isn’t the T+L editors who make the decision. That’s the best part. Their readers cast the votes. So the people who do the traveling, the guests who explore the world with us and our competitors—they are the ones who raised their hands to tell T+L that <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/" target="_blank">Classic Journeys</a> is the World’s Best Tour Operator based on their own experiences. Let me say it right here: “To all of you who voted for us, you are the World’s Best Guests!”<br><br><b>What do you think makes your guests the World’s Best Guests?</b><br>That’s easy. They are curious. They care about connecting with people of different cultures and immersing themselves in the world. They treasure experiences more than things. Like the old ad slogan went, they go for the gusto and crave the chance to have one-of-a-kind moments. They are incredibly interesting and interested people, and all of us at Classic Journeys count it as a real privilege to share in their passion for travel. And we feel that way on the other 364 days of the year when we’re not celebrating recognition like this.<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/morocco-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vxpP&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zVDO" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><b>I guess this is what you meant when you told me that “Enthusiasm is contagious.”</b><br>Absolutely. That’s not our official motto, but it could be. We love what we do. We enjoy helping guests figure out how to invest their precious time and budget. I can honestly say that all of us feel that way—the Guest Services folks who interact with you while you’re planning your trip, the Tour Operations team members who plan all of the logistics, the local guides who lead each one of our trips full time. There’s just a huge amount of positive energy in what we do, and I think it truly is hard to resist. We’d climb into every one of our guest’s suitcases and go along with them if we could. Because we can’t, we call each guest while they’re on tour just to be sure they are having a trip of a lifetime.<br><br><b>Has anyone ever called Classic Journeys obsessive?</b><br>I hope so, because we are. Everything is in the details. For instance, we’ve created a special tour for the <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/chile-solar-eclipse-2020-tour/" target="_blank">total eclipse of the sun</a> which is going to pass over parts of South America in 2020. We’ve already analyzed likely traffic patterns in the most remote areas and figured out how to structure our itinerary so that our guests will be in place in the path of totality while the people who don’t plan ahead will be stuck in jams on remote dirt roads. We enjoy obsessing about details like that so that our guests never have to.<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/amalfi-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vxpP&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zVDd" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><b>How can you top this?</b><br>Oh, we never let ourselves think of it that way. We just continue to approach every single guest on each and every departure like the most important guest we’ve ever had. It seems to be working! Of course, we keep looking for new ways to win more converts. For 2019, we’ve launched a new series of Classic Journeys that are based from <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/river-cruising/" target="_blank">river cruise boats</a>. On a different note, seeing how many travelers can’t always find as much vacation time as they really want, we have developed a series of 6-day or shorter quick trips that go as far afield as Iceland, the Galápagos and Morocco.<br><br><b>Final thoughts?</b><br>It’s always an honor to win recognition. But, for all of us at Classic Journeys, the biggest privilege is to share the dreams of our guests and make those dreams come true. That connection is the best feeling of all.<br><br> 

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  • Iceland

    Can WOW's demise lead to more POW for travelers to Iceland? Here's HOW...

    The <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/25/business/iceland-economy-wow-air.html" target="_blank">NY Times</a> just published an engaging article titled <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/25/business/iceland-economy-wow-air.html" target="_blank">“Iceland’s Purple Planes Are Grounded, and With Them, Its Economy”</a>. In it, Peter S. Goodman and Liz Alderman artfully illustrate the rollercoaster ride that Iceland’s economy has been on over the last decade, how WOW helped to bring the country out of the 2008 recession, ushered in budget travel and Instagram tourism to the island, and how the airline’s bankruptcy may drag the economy into another recession as the number of visitors drops from historic highs.<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vy9H&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zZAn" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><b>Classic Journeys Founder, Edward Piegza, pictured in the middle with two of our most-loved local Icelandic guides.</b><br><br>And yet, at Classic Journeys where we consider ourselves huge fans of <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank">Iceland</a> and <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/heritage-travel/" target="_blank">pour over our 23andme results to find any trace of Viking in our ancestry</a>, we wondered if that was the end of the story for <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/tag/Iceland/" target="_blank">Iceland</a>. Or, does it have another (or many more) chapters still to write about its economy and tourism in general? To make sense of it all, the Classic Journeys editorial staff sat down with frequent traveler and company founder, Edward Piegza, to get context on the rise and fall of WOW and what it means for the people of Iceland and travelers to the island nation.<br><br><b>Classic Journeys editorial staff: Why was WOW so instrumental in pulling Iceland out of the 2008 recession?</b><br><br>Edward Piegza: “Let’s set the stage for our conversation with a bit of recap. Founded in 2011 by billionaire Skúli Mogensen who fashioned himself as a sort of Icelandic Richard Branson, WOW was a budget airline that grew quickly and successfully as it brought throngs of tourists to Iceland on cheap flights from the United States, more than doubling the number of tourists visiting Iceland between 2011 and 2015, to 1.3 million. The success story continued and by 2018, the number of tourists increased to 2.3 million.”<br><br><span style="font-size: 11pt;"><span><span style="font-family: Calibri,sans-serif;"><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vy9H&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zZ9z" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a></span></span></span><br><br><b>CJ: That’s amazing growth in the number of tourists to Iceland, but it couldn’t have all come from WOW, did it?</b><br><br>EP: “You’re right. This growth of tourism resulting from cheap travel options to Iceland reflected the same exponential growth curve in social media. Cinematic Instagram posts of filming locations from popular shows like “<a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/5-classic-journeys-destinations-on-the-game-of-thrones-shot-list/" target="_blank">Game of Thrones</a>” and YouTube videos of Justin Bieber’s 2015 hit “I’ll Show You” filmed in Iceland burst on the scene. Tourist arrivals reached new heights as visitors continue to fight for the perfect Instagram photo with Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes acting as their no-filter-required background.”<br><br><b>CJ: The NY Times article notes that after WOW’s short-lived success and recent failure, projections are that visitors overall will drop by 16% in 2019, and American tourists arrivals will fall even steeper, by 20%. Is Classic Journeys seeing a decrease in travelers that mirrors the drop in the number of tourists visiting Iceland? </b><br><br>EP: “Not at all. In fact, Classic Journeys is actually seeing an increase in interest and bookings for our trips to Iceland. Our <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland/" target="_blank">Culture + Walking</a> program are averaging 10% more guests in 2019 and our <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-adventure-tour/" target="_blank">Multisport trips</a> are averaging 3% more than in 2018. While those numbers are not a huge increase, they certainly buck the overall trend of double-digit decreases for tourists in general to Iceland.”<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vy9H&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zZA4" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><b>CJ: Why do you think Classic Journeys is seeing an increase and continuation of guest interest in traveling to Iceland in spite of WOW’s demise?</b><br><br>EP: “There is a terrific quote in the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/25/business/iceland-economy-wow-air.html" target="_blank">NY Times</a> article, ‘When the people who are coming are more about getting Instagram posts, and everyone goes to the same spots, then it’s overcrowded,’ said Hordur Mio Olafsson, 32, whose family business leads tourists through lava caves near Húsafell.’ WOW certainly had a successful niche in that it brought – literally – planeloads of budget tourists to Iceland. It was good for WOW and good for the budget passengers WOW carried, as they might not have gotten to Iceland any other way. But in a country of only 340,000 people in total on the whole island, the massive influx of travelers put tremendous pressure on the environment and the tourism infrastructure as everyone ran to the same few spots to take their Instagram photo. But that sort of tourist is not the Classic Journeys traveler. Our guests want so much more than an Instagram post.<br><br><b>CJ: How does a trip to Iceland with Classic Journeys differ from that of the average tourist visiting Iceland?  </b><br><br>EP: “Classic Journeys guests want the experience and engagement behind the shot. They want immersion into the culture, the people, the places that you cannot find on your own. And that’s why all Classic Journeys trips — whether it&#39;s one of our <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland/" target="_blank">Culture + Walking</a> programs, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-adventure-tour/" target="_blank">Multisport Trips</a>, or <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-family-adventure-tour/" target="_blank">Family Journeys</a> — are led by super well-connected local guides. In fact, our guides are so local that they are actually descended from 9th century Vikings! That means that they can get you to that perfect location for a photo, but you’ll be there by yourself without the madding crowds, you’ll learn the backstory behind the location, and you’ll get to know the real people who live in that fantastical landscape.”<br><br><span style="font-size: 11pt;"><span><span style="font-family: Calibri,sans-serif;"><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vy9H&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zZAE" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a></span></span></span><br><br><b>CJ: How does the Classic Journeys offer a sustainable alternative to the travel patterns of budget-friendly tourists that WOW initially introduced to Iceland?</b><br><br>EP: “There is a large American company that operates tours in Iceland and they import their guides from Spain and Portugal. They pay the guides 10% of the Icelandic guiding wage and tell them to work for tips. It’s gotten so contentious that the Icelandic parliament has actually taken up a bill to outlaw this sort of tourism. In contrast, Classic Journeys takes the sort of farm-to-table or zero-kilometer approach that has become so popular in culinary circles and applies it to everything we do in every corner of the world, including <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/tag/Iceland/" target="_blank">Iceland</a>. So, what that means is that our guides are all Iceland, all the time. Through them, we have deep and rich connections with the ranchers, shark fishermen, naturalists, glacier guides, chief of police (True! In one of the villages we visit.), hoteliers and restauranteurs all over the island. And we use those connections to our guests’ benefit, but also to the benefit of partners. We stay in boutique hotels that are often on farms that have been in the same family for several generations. We don’t have to take you to just one waterfall that is accessible to busloads of tourists just off the ring road. We can take you up a canyon to an even more impressive one that only the locals can find and where you can walk behind the cataract all by yourself. Most tourists will explore the same two or three ice caves. Our glacial guides know our guests are looking for something much more authentic, so they will take us way up the tongue of a glacier to a cave only they know for a transformationally better experience. It all sums up in that our guests get a more authentic experience, the footprint of tourism gets spread out in a much more sustainable and thoughtful way, and the money they pay us goes directly into the hands of local people. It’s a win-win-win.”<br><br><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank"><img alt="User-added image" src="/servlet/rtaImage?eid=a2Y1T000001vy9H&amp;feoid=00N50000008QRzC&amp;refid=0EM1T000000zZAJ" style="height: 355px; width: 500px;"></img></a><br><br><b>CJ: Some people in the industry are suggesting that the dip in tourism may be healthy following the mass amount of people overwhelming the island. What are your thoughts? </b><br><br>EP: “To go back to that quote in the Times article, Hordur the lava cave guide mentioned, ‘What people are seeking here is pristine nature in this strange country in the North Atlantic, full of mystery. Now, we have a chance to do things properly.’ We couldn’t agree more. There is more service now to Iceland on Icelandair, American, Delta, and other airlines than there was before WOW burst on to the scene which means there is plenty of capacity in terms of airplane seats to get to the island. And the bubble certainly was a cautionary tale for everyone in the tourism industry as to the type of sustainable tourism they want. I was just with one of our hoteliers in Iceland recently and they were gushing about the quality of Classic Journeys guests. So it seems the word is out and there is this confluence of engaged travelers looking for an immersive experience in a place and people poised perfectly to provide it. To paraphrase the cheer Icelanders shout for their beloved soccer team, ‘Huh-Huh-Huh!’”<br><br><b>For a chance to see Iceland in Classic Journeys style, take a look at our upcoming <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank">Culture + Walking tours, Multisport </a><a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/iceland-tours/" target="_blank">and Family</a> options!</b><br> 

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  • Havana Skyline, Cuba

    How and Why You Can Still Travel to Cuba Legally

    Here&#39;s the latest on Cuba travel restrictions, and what they mean for your 2020 trips. These FAQs include news about a recent change in your air travel options, which was <a href="https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-news/trump-administration-department-of-transportation-bans-travel-to-cuba" target="_blank">announced</a> on October 28, 2019.  <br><br><b>What do the current Cuba travel restrictions mean?</b><br>In June, the Trump administration announced new rules governing travel to <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">Cuba</a>. If you have plans for such a trip – or have been thinking about making them – you may naturally wonder what’s going on. Here’s a summary of the changes to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations and the Export Administration Regulations announced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC, the section at the Department of the Treasury that regulates the trade and travel embargo to Cuba and which issues licenses for travel to Cuba) and the Commerce Department.<br><br><b>How do the new regulations affect travel with Classic Journeys?</b><br>Classic Journeys was among the first companies to obtain a license to operate people-to-people trips in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/blog/tag/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cuba/" target="_blank">Cuba</a>. Until now, our trips have all operated under that license. A ‘grandfather’ clause in the OFAC ruling permits us to operate our 2019 trips under that designation. OFAC has, however, prohibited people-to-people programs that do not fall under this ‘grandfather’ clause. As a result, many other companies were forced to cancel or completely end their Cuba programs.<br><br>Looking to the future, we have recently updated all of our trips to make them fully compliant with the “Support for the Cuban People” licensing category, qualifying us to offer departure dates in 2019 and through 2020. Among the requirements in this license, the program must support private enterprise in Cuba, which has been a key objective of our trips from the beginning. It also requires that our guests have a fulltime program of meaningful two-way engagements with the Cuban people. That kind of rich and personal contact with Cubans has also been a hallmark of our trips, so the fact that we were already complying with that guideline has proven to be a bonus for Classic Journeys and our guests traveling with us.<br><br><b>So I can travel legally to Cuba with Classic Journeys?</b><br>Absolutely yes. Because we have responded vigorously and quickly to the evolving regulations, all of our trips are compliant. You can reserve space on set departures and private departures for travel from right now all the way through 2020 for <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-havana-art-music/" target="_blank">Long Weekend in Havana</a>, <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cubafamily/" target="_blank">Cuba for Families</a>, and <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba-cienfuegos-trinidad-havana/" target="_blank">Havana, Cienfuegos &amp; Trinidad</a>.<br><br><b>Can I still fly to Cuba legally on commercial air flights?</b><br>Yes, but on October 28, 2019, the U.S. Transportation Department announced new restrictions on air travel that will affect your options. When the new regulation takes effect on December 10, 2019, only flights to Havana will be allowed. Until then, flights that you book or have already booked to other Cuban destinations including Santa Clara will operate. <br><br><b>Can I arrange a private edition of these trips?</b><br>Yes. We can create private or even custom departures for you, your family or your group based on any of our existing programs. Because they are built on the framework of “Support for the Cuban People” regulations, your trip will be fully compliant and legal.<br><br><b>How do the regulations affect cruise travel to Cuba?</b><br>The changes end travel to Cuba by U.S.-flagged cruise ships or foreign-flagged cruise ships departing from the U.S. The Commerce Department has not included a “grandfather” clause to allow cruises that have already been scheduled, and for which passengers have already made arrangements. If you have a paid money toward a deposit or final payment for cruise travel to Cuba, you should contact your cruise company for a refund.<br><br><b>Can I purchase travel insurance for Cuba travel?</b><br>Yes. When you make your application, you will be asked about the kind of trip you are taking. By selecting the “Support for the Cuban People” option, you will be able to purchase a policy.<br><br><b>What about private aircraft and boats; can they travel legally to Cuba?</b><br>The authorization for private vessels and private aircraft (such as private fishing boats and private sailboats, and corporate or private jets) is revoked. So, they are no longer legal for travel to Cuba.<br><br><b>How will the changes under President Trump affect the people of Cuba?</b><br>We’ve made so many wonderful friends in <a href="https://www.classicjourneys.com/cuba/" target="_blank">Cuba</a> and seen the lives of the Cuban people change for the better during recent years. So, of course, we’re concerned about what it will mean to their prosperity and general welfare with the enaction of this year’s travel regulations, including the upcoming suspension of flights to all Cuban airports except Havana. The Cubans have been through so much in the last 60 years. They’ve always managed to bear their hardships with grace and warm solidarity in their families and communities.<br><br>The new regulations cap remittances – the money that can be sent to Cubans from friends and family members in the U.S. – at $1,000 per person every three months. In a country where the median monthly salary is just $32, you can only imagine how a reduction in remittance income will impact everyday life. In addition, travel had become a major source of income for Cubans, as well, so any reduction in that resource will echo throughout the country, affecting the people who can least afford it and whom we and our government want to help.<br><br><b>We choose guarded optimism.</b><br>We are approaching Cuba as we always have – with care, enthusiasm, and pride in the fact that legal travel for Americans to Cuba has changed the lives of our American guests and the everyday local Cubans they’ve met, in overwhelmingly positive ways. You can still travel to Cuba legally with Classic Journeys. We like to think of this way of travel as an informal version of ‘Voice of America” with boots on the ground… yours in fact, as you communicate a positive story of the American people to local Cuban people. We urge you to hold fast to your plans. And if you’ve been hesitating to plan a Cuba trip, you know now that you can, and we encourage you to do so now.

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