Apr 092007
 

By Erica Colmenares

I don’t know about you, but I spend a good bit of my daydreaming time imagining I’ve won the lottery. Now, I don’t play the lottery, so it’s pretty far-fetched, but here’s what I’d do if, magically, my number was picked for the MegaBall jackpot. First, there’d be back-to-back Eastern and Western cruises on Disney Cruise Line’s Magic. Ahhhhhh. Then, I’m pretty sure I’d book a few of those Adventure by Disney vacations. Costa Rica and Ireland sound nice, don’t they? A trip to Disneyland Paris would most certainly be in the plans. I might even make a side-trip to see the Eiffel Tower!

All of this Disney-related travel, however, would require additional planning and information, above and beyond our more typical vacations to Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort. Whenever a U.S. citizen leaves the confines of our 50 states, some thinking ahead is in order.

I’ll pause a second now to offer apologies to our non-U.S. readers. The scope of this article doesn’t lend itself to covering laws and advice for international travelers. Try not to read that as meaning I was too darn lazy to do all that research, please. ;-)

OK, onward. We’re looking at the biggies in preparing for that Disney Cruise Line vacation in the Med, that Adventure by Disney foray to the Czech Republic, that long-awaited visit to Disneyland Paris. What should you be considering?

PASSPORTS

Passports are either required or highly recommended for any of these Disney outings. Technically, at this time it is not yet mandatory for U.S. citizens to have a passport for a sea/land-entry into the U.S., if they are traveling in the Americas, the Caribbean, Bermuda or Canada. However, if an emergency situation arises, and an air re-entry is necessary, a passport will be required. Why chance it? Get a passport! Note: Passports will be required for land/sea entry, beginning January 1, 2008. Which isn’t as far away as it sounds.

Applications and Other Stuff You’ll Need to Know:
Here are the nuts and bolts of getting a passport at this time; as always, laws are subject to change:

  • The nearest U.S. post office should have the passport application, affectionately known as U.S. government’s DS-11 Application: US State Department Official Forms.
  • Bring along acceptable proof of citizenship. Not sure what that is? Check here: present proof of U.S. citizenship (scroll down)
  • Your birth certificate must accompany your passport application- make a copy, in case you need it for something else during the six-eight weeks the U.S. government has possession.
  • Current valid identification with photo and signature. Here’s the list of valid options: Proof of Identity (same page as above; scroll down further)
  • Two recent color photos, which often can be obtained at your friendly neighborhood copy shop. Here are the requirements: My Passport Photos (same page as above; scroll down even further)
  • Payment, and these babies don’t come cheap. For anyone 16 years old and up, the application and execution fees are $97. Children under 16 pay $82.
  • First time applicants, including minors, must apply in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility. There are 7,000 nationwide, and one near you! To locate your facility, enter you zip code on this site: Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page. Call ahead about hours of operation, forms of payment accepted, accessibility, etc. Some facilities even take passport photos, so it’s really worth an advance call!

  • You are eligible for renewal if your previous passport was issued when you were 16 or older, was issued in the last 15 years, is not damaged, and is submitted with your application. The application fee is $67. You can renew your passport by mail or in person. Check your local post office for an application, or download U.S. Government’s Renewal Form DS-82 here: US State Department Official Forms
  • Allow at least 8-10 weeks for passport processing; some areas report delivery times of even longer!. While it is possible to expedite delivery, that’s an additional $60 hit, so planning ahead can save you the extra cash required. The U.S. government recommends overnight delivery for delivery and return. If you are in a super-duper hurry, make an appointment at one of the 14 Passport Agencies. Check here for locations.

IMMUNIZATIONS

None of the countries we’re discussing here require immunizations of U.S. travelers. (In case you were wondering, the only vaccine required by International Health Regulations is a yellow fever vaccination for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. Not where we’re going, at least in this article.) The Centers for Disease Control maintain an up-to-date website with all sorts of great health info for those leaving the U.S.: On Travelers’ Health . You can search for information by destination, or just look on the CDC pages related to vaccinations, diseases, illness and injury abroad, etc.

INSURANCE

And speaking of injury and illness abroad, it’s always a good idea to arrange for travel insurance before embarking on a foreign jaunt. Vacation protection insurance can be a real life-saver in time of need. Since many U.S. insurers do not cover international claims, be sure you check carefully before committing to a company. It’s especially important to ask whether the insurance covers medical repatriation to a U.S. medical center capable of handling any situation that arises. The Disney Company offers optional insurance as part of their travel booking, or your travel agent may have suggestions (by law, however, TAs may not make recommendations of one policy over another unless they are also licensed insurance brokers).

If you plan on renting a car outside of the U.S., check with your domestic auto insurance carrier before departing to see what is covered. If you use a MasterCard to pay for your rental, they currently offer a collision damage waiver for free (subject to change – so call!).

COMMUNICATION WITH HOME

Email may be the easiest way to communicate while outside of the U.S. Most European cities have numerous internet-access shops, where rows of computers give you quick and easy access to all your internet needs. Fees are usually assessed by the hour (or half hour) and are fairly reasonable. To get an idea of how many cybercafes there are, look at this site: Cybercafes in Italy

The whole world of cell phone use overseas flummoxed me a bit, but I found an excellent article in the New York Times that covers it thoroughly. A direct link to the source seems most appropriate in this case: Guidelines for Using a Cellphone Abroad

Or maybe you could just do what Kate Abbott and her husband did:
This is maybe a little extreme, but for our UK trip, we found we were desperate for a cell phone, so we actually just bought the cheapest, pre-paid cell phone we could find, and used that! It cost us 25 pounds (ouch), but came with 10 pounds free of minutes, and it was quite useful. Although I’m sure it’s cheaper if you plan ahead and make other arrangements.

COMMUNICATION ‘IN COUNTRY’

When traveling outside of the United States, it’s fairly likely that you’ll be visiting a country where the native language isn’t English. U.S. vacationers are lucky in that many people around the world speak English, especially in areas visited by tourists. You’ll get a lot of mileage, however, by learning some basic phrases in the language(s) of the nation(s) that you’ll be visiting. “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Where’s the bathroom?” will come in handy, and only take a small effort to learn. Try one of the many internet translation sites for help. Here’s a good one: Babel Fish Translation.

CURRENCY

As with languages, outside of the United States, it’s likely you’ll need currency besides U.S. dollars. For travel in the Caribbean and the Bahamas, most tourist establishments will take dollars. But for travel to Europe, you’ll definitely need to have the local currency (pounds in the United Kingdom and Euros in most of the rest of Western Europe).

It’s a good idea to have a little bit of foreign currency, especially if your flight is landing very late or early. Having enough money to catch a cab to your hotel, or a meal upon arrival, can ease your mind (and your rumbling tummy). There are a number of ways to get foreign currency:

  • Some local banks, which may require advance notice to have the currency you need on hand; ask at your branch
  • On-line currency markets deliver foreign currency to your door; one example is ordercurrency.com
  • Money exchange agents at your point of departure from the United States (large international airports) or your point of arrival in another country
  • For a better exchange rate, change money in your destination country.
  • ATMs are a good bet; look for one affiliated with a major bank. Since you will be charged a user fee by both the foreign bank and your home institution, withdraw as much as you comfortably can, instead of making numerous smaller withdrawals. If you are using a credit card, remember your PIN number and realize you’ll be charged fees for cash advances as well as international transactions; check with your credit card company regarding their specific policies.
  • Although less popular in recent years, traveler’s checks are also an option. They are secure, replaceable, and accepted in many foreign locations.
  • Magic for Less travel agent Mic Anderson shared this from her experience: We always use our ATM/check card and while we have been charged some minimal fees, it’s not much, and we get the best exchange rate this way. In Europe, there are American Express exchange offices on every corner, making them extremely convenient for travelers, but it comes at a cost: they are usually the worst exchange rate, so beware.

For the most current currency exchange rates, check here: Universal Currency Converter

CUSTOM ALLOWANCES

When arriving back into the U.S., be it by boat, plane or land, you will have to fill in a U.S. Customs Declaration Form. It’s pretty easy, and you should have no trouble finding assistance (flight attendants, DCL cast members) to help you with questions. When in doubt, declare purchases. Nothing puts a damper on a vacation like an accusation of smuggling, eh? For the full scoop on U.S. Custom Laws, see: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

TIME CHANGE

DCL itineraries in the Caribbean don’t change time much. One hour one day, one hour another. But for Med cruises, or your visit to Disneyland Paris, you are facing a time change of at least five hours. The change can be especially difficult when traveling east, so it’s worth thinking ahead to make the time transition as easy as possible.

  • Try to start your trip well rested
  • If you can plan ahead, try going to sleep a little earlier each night in the nights before your trip (or later, if you are traveling west for a Mexican Riviera cruise next summer!)
  • Drink lots of water on the plane- not alcohol or caffeine
  • When boarding your plane, set your watch to your destination time
  • If you can, raise your feet on the plane (and take off your shoes)
  • Go to sleep as quickly as you can, upon takeoff; bring earplugs, blindfolds, whatever you need to help you rest comfortably
  • Eat lightly, if you must eat
  • At your destination, try to expose yourself to natural sun for at least 15 minutes.
  • Exercise also helps (early morning or late afternoon best)

SPECIFICALLY: DCL, AbD, and DLP

Now, there’s some specific travel info particular to Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney and the Disneyland Paris Resort that might be helpful. Let’s look:

Disney Cruise Line
When planning your passport application timing, remember that the Disney Cruise Lines will want you to give them your passport numbers 75 days before your cruise. So allow for that extra lead time!

You should be fine with just U.S. currency when traveling with DCL. In the Bahamas, the Caribbean and the Mexican Riviera, you can use both U.S. dollars and major credit cards almost everywhere. And on the ships, no cash of any nation is needed – you can charge using your room key, and leave the reality of paying for later. If you are going on a Mediterranean cruise, you’ll need Euros, the currency of all the European nations the Magic will visit.

Folks can take advantage of wireless internet with their own laptops (10 locations throughout the ships), or DCL has an internet café that’s open 24/7 to scratch your computer itch. This doesn’t come cheap: charges are $.75 per minute, with reduced rates for 50, 100, 250 and 500 minute packages. Neither the Magic nor the Wonder offer an unlimited-use package at this time. Printing is $.25 per page.
Disney Cruise Line Homepage

Adventures by Disney
Passports are needed for all but the domestic Adventure by Disney itineraries. For U.S. travelers, none of the countries visited by AbD need visas.

You’ll want to acquaint yourself with some basic language phrases for the country you’ll be visiting. However, the AbD traveler will be buffered a bit from needing language skills by their Adventure Guide, who will always be there to help, in any given situation.

Currencies you’ll need? The British Pound for the U.K, the Euro for France, Spain, Austria and Italy, the Koruna in the Czech Republic, and the Colon in Costa Rica. Your Adventure Guide can help with any currency issues.
Adventures by Disney Homepage

Disneyland Paris
Euros will be the currency of choice at DLP. At the parks themselves, you should have no problem finding cast members who speak English, but a smattering of s’il Vous Plaît‘s and merci‘s will go a long way toward increasing your magic quotient.

Ric Flack, one of the Magic for Less travel agents, had this to say about his Disneyland Paris adventure:
My first trip to Disneyland Paris was a complete spur of the moment trip. I was in London for business and had a free weekend so I hopped a plane and flew to Disneyland Paris. I had done no planning at all. The look and feel of Disneyland Paris is the same as the other Disney Parks I have visited. But, there were some things I wish I had prepared myself for. Being in a country other than the one where I live there were some cultural issues I had to learn. For example, smoking is much more tolerated at Disneyland Paris. Although there are smoking areas in the parks, people smoke everywhere, including in line. Cast members do nothing about this so I had to learn to deal with that cultural difference. Also, at Disneyland Paris, people tend not to make a queue as we do in the US but rather just get in the queue area and fill in all the empty space. Since I was alone on my first trip I frequently had people queuing up all around me. As a side note, at Tokyo Disneyland, people dress up to go to the parks, that is something I wasn’t prepared to see. None of these things are deal breakers but you do need to be prepared for cultural differences in each country you visit.
Disneyland Paris Resort Homepage

WRAPPING UP

Ric’s experience makes clear that preparing for a trip abroad means more than just getting passports and currency. It’s an adventure! I hope this article has started you in the right direction, to start planning for some of the more common issues when you win the MegaBall jackpot (or if you find another way to budget for this type of trip.) Me? Maybe I’ll go buy myself a lottery ticket. On the off-chance!

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