Oberammergau 2020

Oberammergau comes around every ten years. It is the most famous and visually stunning presentation of Christ’s Passion in the world.

In 1633, the villagers of Oberammergau made a solemn vow.

In the early 17th century, Germany was in the midst of the Thirty Years War. The bubonic plague had also swept through the surrounding villages. Violence, famine, and disease ravaged the region, and death and suffering were imminent. Fearful and desperate, the residents of Oberammergau prayed for God’s grace. They swore an oath that if God spared them from continued suffering and loss, they would produce a play depicting the life and death of Jesus. And, that they would perform the play every ten years until the end of time. The residents of Oberammergau performed the very first Passion Play that next year.  Afterward, not a single person in the village ever died of the plague.  Oberammergau was spared.  The villagers have faithfully kept their promise to perform the Passion play every decade (except 1940-WWII) for more than 380 years. 2020 will be the 42nd installment of the play.

More than 2000 people are involved in the production of the Passion Play.

All of them are from the village of Oberammergau.  All of them are amateurs.

THE CHOIR | over a hundred choristers will be a part of the 2020 performance.  In the upcoming Passion Play normally 4 vocal soloists and 44 choristers will be performing on stage, at some scenes there will be a total of 64 vocalists.

THE ORCHESTRA | 55 musicians will be sitting in the pit.  In 2020, once again, the music for the Passion Play will largely be based on compositions of Rochus Dedler (1779 – 1822).

THE PLAY | The Passion Play will be performed 103 consecutive days from May 16th to October 4th 2020.

Tours including the Play sell out quickly.  Join one today!

The REAL ID Act

Flying after January 22, 2018?

Be prepared, identification rules are changing on domestic flights.

(Note this information is up-to-date as of 11/10/2017)

 

Who is affected by this?

Everyone.  If you are flying within the United States you will need to be aware of the new rules.

What is changing?

Anyone traveling domestically will need a REAL-ID compliant state-issued driver’s license or ID to pass security and board an airplane, otherwise, alternate forms of identification are needed.

What is a REAL ID?

A REAL ID is a state-issued form of identification that passes certain security standards set by Congress. The purpose of REAL ID is to make our identity documents more consistent and secure.
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Do I have a REAL ID?

If your driver’s license or ID card has a gold star in a circle on it you have a REAL-ID compliant driver’s. Most often this is found on the top right. Enhanced driver’s licenses are also REAL-ID compliant.
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Do the rules apply to me?

Not if you live in Michigan.  Michigan has an extension to October 1, 2020. If you live in another state you can check your state’s compliance deadlines here.


 

FURTHER INFORMATION

 

Does this just affect flights?

No. After the deadline, a REAL ID-compliant license or ID will be required for domestic air travel or entering a military base, nuclear power plant and certain federal buildings.
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What happens to my Standard License or ID after the deadlines?

Nothing.  You can still use your standard driver’s license for driving.  Both standard licenses and state ID’s will still be accepted as identification for voting, applying for or receiving Federal benefits, cashing checks, renting vehicles, purchasing alcohol and tobacco, or entering casinos.

What do the different cards look like?

You can see images of a Michigan standard card, a REAL ID-compliant card, and an enhanced card by clicking here.

How do I Apply for a REAL ID?

If you are applying for your first Michigan driver’s license or ID card visit a Secretary of State office and provide the proper forms of identification required.
If you are renewing a Michigan driver’s license or ID card check your renewal notice, it will say whether your card is REAL ID compliant. If your renewal notice says you are compliant your new card will have a star printed on it.  If your renewal notice says you are not compliant you will have to visit a Secretary of State office to provide more forms of identification.  Read your renewal notice carefully to see what documentation you will need to bring with you.  You cannot apply for a REAL ID online or via mail.

What does a REAL ID cost?

In Michigan, if you are up for a standard license or ID card renewal or are applying for your first card, standard driver’s license and ID card fees apply.  If you apply for a REAL ID-compliant license or ID outside of your normal renewal cycle a correction fee will be charged.

Do minors need a REAL ID?

TSA doesn’t require children under 18 to provide identification if they are traveling with a companion.  The companion will need acceptable identification.

What if I have a passport card?

TSA considers passport cards an acceptable form of identification.  After the deadlines, you can use this instead of a REAL-ID for domestic travel.  Click here for a list of other acceptable forms of identification.

For the latest information visit the Department of Homeland Security REAL ID Act website. 

Linking Cruises: Combining two (or more) cruise itineraries

Linking Cruises
Did you know that you can “link” cruises together? In other words, you can combine itineraries to turn, for example, a 7-day cruise into a 14-day or 21-day (or longer) cruise. My husband and I frequently link on Princess Cruises. In recent years, we have linked Eastern and Southern, Eastern and Western and, most recently, Eastern, Southern and Western Caribbean cruises during the month of January. A few years ago, we linked a British Isles cruise with a Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Royal Princess in October. The first time we did this, we learned how common it is – especially among seasoned cruisers.

Here’s an example of how to link cruises together:

Begin with a Trans-Atlantic cruise itinerary in the spring or fall. To link another cruise to this itinerary, find another cruise that ends on the first day the Trans-Atlantic cruise departs. The key is to make sure both cruises are on the same ship. Linking cruises is quite popular, and it works best if the cabin you select on cruise #1 is also open on the cruise you’re linking to. I recommend booking six months or more in advance – and watch for cruise sales! The best sale on Princess is the Anniversary Sale (early December through the end of February).

Cruise to St. John, US Virgin Islands
Who wouldn’t want to spend more time cruising through the Caribbean? (St. John, US Virgin Islands)

So how do you transfer from one cruise itinerary to the next?

On the night before the last day of the first completed cruise, you will receive a customs form and a transit card, as well as instructions explaining the transition to the next voyage and indicating where and what time to meet. You’ll probably be asked to bring your passport, transit card, current cruise card and your completed customs form.
On the day of “transit”, you will meet at the time and place indicated in your instructions, and a cruise attendant will swipe your cruise card. Once all of the transit guests are accounted for, everyone will depart the assigned area by row. A U.S. Immigration Officer will look at your passport and cruise card, and swipe your cruise card again.
It’s that easy! You don’t even have to leave the ship! Depending on how many people are “linking” cruises, this process takes approximately one hour. Of course, transit times and procedures will vary a bit, depending on the destination.

Docking in Bonaire during a Caribbean cruise
Docking in Bonaire.

More tips for linking cruises:

  1. Your credit card number rolls over to the next cruise.
  2. Your account on the first cruise will close at the end of the first cruise. You will begin a new account on your second cruise.
  3. Make sure your travel agent “links” the two cruises.
  4. You may have the option to keep the same dining table on the second cruise. (Sometimes the wait staff changes.)
  5. You can keep the same cabin, providing it’s available at the time of booking both cruises (which is why it’s important to book six months or more in advance).
  6. Onboard credits, internet minutes and the onboard account MAY roll over. (Mine have always rolled over on Princess.)
  7. If you have reached Elite status (Captain’s Circle), you will get a new minibar set-up on the second cruise.

Rent a condo for the winter? Or, cruise for one or two months?

On our January 2017 cruise, approximately 400 people linked two or more cruises. We also heard of a couple from Boston who stayed on the ship from January until March. They preferred cruising over renting a condo in Florida or Arizona for the winter!
A few advantages of cruising over renting a condo:

  1. The scenery changes every day.
  2. You don’t need a car.
  3. All meals, entertainment, cabin cleaning, and transportation are taken care of. And there’s all kinds of activities onboard and onshore that are already planned for you.
  4. Plus, if you’re at the highest frequent traveler level, your laundry is done for free. Otherwise, there are laundry facilities located on each passenger deck.
  5. While in port, you have the option to explore on your own, have lunch, play a round of golf, shop, join a ship excursion, go sailing, or just stay on board the ship! The options are endless!
  6. And the best part … you meet wonderful people from all over the world.
Curaçao cruises
Cruising in Curaçao

Are you ready to book your next back-to-back cruise? Give us a call at 800 GO WITTE (800-469-4883) or fill out our Contact Form to connect with a Certified Cruise Specialist!

Photo courtesy of kansasphoto.

Baggage Allowance and Fee Information

Baggage Allowance and Fee Information

Each airline has their own baggage allowance and fees for checked bags, oversized/overweight bags and instruments.  Click on the airlines below for more information.  Note these links will take you off the Witte Travel website.

How To Answer Group Travel Questions Like a Pro

Every group has that one person, the one who needs to know every detail and every planned time.

How do you answer their questions when you don’t yet know the answer or don’t want to share that information?

Continue reading “How To Answer Group Travel Questions Like a Pro”

Luther’s Legacy

Experience the Heritage of the Lutheran Faith

A Lutheran heritage tour gives believers an opportunity to enrich their spiritual lives in unexpected ways. Walk in Luther’s humble footsteps across Germany. You can see the house in Eisleben where he was born to the cell in the Fortress of Wartburg where he translated the New Testament into German.  Or, visit the Castle Church in Wittenberg where he nailed his 95 Theses. Experience the rich heritage of your Lutheran faith as you visit the world’s largest Reformation memorial in Worms, or stand in St. Thomas Church where Luther first introduced the Reformation in Leipzig in 1539.  Travelers return from Lutheran heritage tour refreshed in mind, body, and spirit; ready to share how the tour deepened their faith and enriched their lives.

In 2017, Germany celebrated the Reformation Jubilee, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.  More than 500 years later you can still go and celebrate Martin Luther’s remarkable legacy in the places where it all began!

Statue of Martin Luther

Where to go:

Eisleben | Where Martin Luther was born, baptized and died.

Eisenach | In 1522, Luther hid from persecution in Wartburg Castle. During his time here he translated the New Testament from Latin to German.

Erfurt | in July 1505, Martin Luther dedicated his life to God, joining the Augustinian Monastery.

Lutherstadt Wittenberg | Where Martin Luther, lived and worked for 35 years.  It was on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church doors that he posted his 95 theses.

Wittenberg Market Square Luther Heritage Tour
Wittenberg Market Square

Plan a Lutheran heritage tour today!

 

Flying Over the Holidays – Can I Bring That on a Plane?

Are you flying over the holidays?

Are you bringing your signature Thanksgiving dish to share? Do you know if your dish is allowed on a plane?

Flying over the holidays is stressful. It can seem hard to keep up with changing flight regulations. But flying over the holidays doesn’t need to be difficult. As of the date of this post (11/18/2016), here are some common Thanksgiving dishes and TSA’s rules regarding bringing them on a plane.

flying over the holidays with a turkey
Photo by Steve Johnson
Easy Turkey Thanksgiving

Can I bring a turkey on a plane? (You have to search for meat.)

Cooked Meat, Seafood and Vegetable (No Liquid)

  • Carry On Bags: Yes
  • Checked Bags: Yes

“You may transport this item in carry-on or checked bags. For items you wish to carry on, you should check with the airline to ensure that the item will fit in the overhead bin or underneath the seat of the airplane.

TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.”

Fresh Meat and Seafood

  • Carry On Bags: Yes (Special Instructions)
  • Checked Bags: Yes

“Meat, seafood and other non-liquid food items are permitted in both carry-on and checked bags. If the food is packed with ice or ice packs in a cooler or other container, the ice or ice packs must be completely frozen when brought through screening. If the ice or ice packs are partially melted and have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they will not be permitted. You also can pack frozen perishables in your carry-on or checked bags in dry ice. The FAA limits you to five pounds of dry ice that is properly packaged (the package is vented) and marked.”

Can I carry on a pumpkin pie?

Pies and Cakes

  • Carry On Bags: Yes
  • Checked Bags: Yes

TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.

Flying over the holidays with bread
Mark Bonica
Beer Bread

Can I bring two loaves of homemade bread with me when flying home?

Bread

  • Carry On Bags: Yes
  • Checked Bags: Yes

“Solid food items (not liquids or gels) can be transported in either your carry-on or checked bags. Liquid or gel food items larger than 3.4 oz are not allowed in carry-on bags and should be placed in your checked bags if possible.

TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.”


Looking for another dish?  Or do you have questions on bringing knitting needles (yes), wrapped presents (no) or other items with you as you fly?

Check out TSA’s What Can I Bring tool. Here you’ll find up-to-date information on rules and regulations for flying over the holidays. If your item is not listed, you can send a question to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter. Please remember TSA gate agents have the most up to date information and the final say on what is allowed through security.

Everyone at Witte Travel & Tours wishes you a terrific Thanksgiving.  Here is to happy and safe travels!

 

Post updated 11/21/2018 for accuracy. Quotes come directly from TSA.

Traveling in Europe by Train

europe-by-train
Have you ever decided to do something while traveling and then wondered if that was a good decision?
Recently, I planned a trip for my family to travel around Europe by train. We planned on visiting four countries during our vacation. After considering the pros and cons of renting a car or traveling by train, train travel stood out as the best choice for us. I have traveled by train in Europe without my family in the past and really enjoyed it, but that was years ago. What if traveling with a family was more difficult? What if I didn’t remember how to do it or screwed up and got on the wrong train or off at the wrong destination and lead my family astray? These questions swirled around in my mind.
Because we were going to several different destinations, I decided to purchase Eurail passes for each of us. Eurail offers quite a few options for passes, so you can pick the best-fitting one based on how many countries you will visit and how many days you want to travel. We purchased the Eurail Select Pass, which worked perfectly with our itinerary because it would allow us to travel throughout 4 bordering countries of our choice. Next, I looked at all of the train departure times and made reservations on the trains that required a reservation. I also downloaded the Eurail “Rail Planner” app on my phone. This app gave me access to rail schedules, made it easy to locate train stations, displayed city maps, and much more. We were well prepared before we left for Europe.

Salzburg Train Station

Waiting at the train platform in Salzburg, Austria

Once we arrived in Europe, we walked to the train station that was located right at the airport. By looking at the train arrival/departure monitors, we could see which track our train would come in on, as well as the exact time it was scheduled to depart. All we had to do was head to the platform and wait for the train. Once we loaded our luggage on the train, we were able to relax and enjoy the ride. After a long night of sitting cooped up on an airplane, it felt so nice to be on the train; we could get up and walk around as much as we wanted or enjoy the comfortable train seats. And the views out the windows were a great way to acclimate ourselves to our current location.

Train Travel in Europe

Enjoying the big windows and roomy seats on the train after a cramped overnight flight.

My family embraced riding on the train. Our teenagers were excited to discover that the “the train was just like the trains used in the Harry Potter movies.” They loved that there was a food car on most of the trains as well, and that we were served a meal on the long train rides. Traveling in Europe by train with my family was just as good as it had been when I traveled alone. The extensive rail network in Europe made it simple to transfer from one destination to the next, and getting on and off the train was much easier than I remembered. There was no reason for me to be worried at all and I will definitely plan to travel by train in Europe again.
If the ease, comfort, and convenience of train travel appeals to you, let us know and we can help you arrange rail tickets and passes for your next vacation. Witte Travel & Tours is the only agency in West Michigan that has a direct link to Rail Europe’s reservation system, so we can process rail passes quickly while avoiding costly shipping fees.
What has been your experience with traveling by train? Share your stories with us onFacebook, or let us know what you think in the comments!

Using Your Credit Card Abroad

Are you planning to travel abroad, and unsure if your credit card will work overseas? With Canada, Europe, and much of Asia already using “chip and PIN” credit cards, here’s what you need to know before your next trip.

In the summer of 2014, I joined two friends on a cycling trip across Europe and visited 17 countries over the span of three months. We didn’t want to carry three months’ worth of cash (in ten different currencies, mind you), so we relied on our credit/debit cards for everything. However, we soon learned that our American “swipe-and-sign” cards were becoming a thing of the past—the distantpast, judging by the reactions we got from servers and storeowners as they shook their heads incredulously at our swiping motions.
Over the past several years, Europe has switched from traditional magnetic-stripe credit cards over to “chip and PIN” credit card systems in an effort to reduce credit card fraud.These new cards contain a tiny visible microchip and require a PIN for validation, rather than a signature. Instead of swiping a credit card through the reader and signing a receipt, customers insert these “smart” cards (sometimes called EMV cards, for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) into a slot on the card reader and type in their PIN.
chip and pin
Photo Credit: bestofcategoryreviews via Compfight cc
These microchipped cards are effective at preventing credit card skimming, which accounts for37% of credit card fraud in the U.S. Credit card skimming devices snag the information from the magnetic stripe on a credit card, and copy it onto another card that can then be used to make fraudulent purchases. The microchip, on the other hand, creates unique data for each transaction that can’t be copied.
Since the U.S. seems to lag about 5 years behind Europe in many ways (policy, fashion, etc.), it’s not surprising to learn that financial institutions in the United States are finally starting to warm to the new technology. As of October 1, 2015, a “liability shift” has shifted the financial responsibility in the event of fraud onto banks, credit card companies, and retailers. As you might imagine, this has created a powerful incentive to switch over to a system that makes in-person purchases more secure. Banks have been issuing EMV cards to American consumers left and right—perhaps you’ve already received new microchipped versions of your credit / debit cards in the mail—and American retailers are starting to update their credit card readers. But there is an important distinction to make between the EMV cards in the U.S., and the EMV cards used in Europe.
The new microchipped credit cards that we’ve been receiving in the U.S. are mostly “chip and sign”, rather than “chip and PIN”. They require a signature for verification, just like our old “swipe and sign” cards. That won’t cause you any problems here, where our new card readers are prepared to accept both versions. But at self-service kiosks or ATMs in Europe, you might run into some issues if you don’t have a PIN.
credit card types
Or, you might not have a problem. MasterCard and Visa have said that “chip and sign” cards should still work abroad, and Rick Steves doesn’t seem too concerned, but my personal experience makes me skeptical. Many of the ATMs or the new portable card readers that were presented to me in Europe did not have a place for a signature, and were not able to bypass the PIN requirement. (Another way the EMV cards prevent fraud is at restaurants, where servers used to take your credit card out of your sight to run it through their POS – giving any less-than-upstanding servers the perfect opportunity to write down your credit card information for later use. Now, the card readers are brought to the table for customers to enter their PIN directly.) And trust me, nothing compares to the feeling of trying to buy a train ticket from a kiosk while the train is approaching, only to panic when asked for PIN that you don’t have.
Besides, even if mag-stripe or “chip and sign” cards can be accepted in Europe, it doesn’t guarantee that they will be. We ran into a few store owners and restaurant servers who had the technology to accept my old magnetic-stripe MasterCard, but still refused to do so for their own protection. Others simply didn’t know how to process non-chip credit cards, and couldn’t complete the transaction. I had to endure a few embarrassing incidents when a friend had to cover my meal because I couldn’t use my “swipe” credit card to pay my bill at a restaurant, or when had to sheepishly abandon two bags of groceries upon learning that the Lidl or Aldi I was shopping at would not accept my credit card. So, although you certainly might be able to get by in Europe without a “chip and PIN” card, you may find it to be a major inconvenience.
But the good news is – preventing such headache and humiliation before your next trip is actually pretty easy. If you’re not sure whether your new EMV card is “chip and sign” or “chip and PIN”, the easiest way to find out is to call your bank and ask. If it turns out that you have a “chip-and-sign” card, then you’re already halfway there– all you have to do is ask the bank for a PIN. Be warned that you might still run into a few issues at self-service kiosks (gas pumps, train stations, etc.), but these can often be solved by finding an attendant or cashier to help you.
If you’re really concerned about not having a true “chip and PIN” card for your next travel adventure, you may be able to get one—ask your bank if they can offer one, or check out this handy U.S. chip card guide. Here’s another helpful resource for finding “chip and PIN” options at decent rates.
A Few Last Pieces of Advice
Bring more than one credit / debit card with you! Upon landing in Denmark, I tried to buy a bus ticket at the airport, but my debit card simply would not work at any of the kiosks. I could’ve easily been stranded in Copenhagen with no access to money and no means of calling my bank to sort out the problem. Fortunately, my other credit card did work, so I was able to happily proceed with my trip.
If you are worried that your card might not be accepted, withdraw some cash ahead of time. The panic I felt while trying to purchase a train ticket from a kiosk in Colchester (as the last train of the night approached the platform) might have been easily avoided if I’d just withdrawn a few extra pounds to use at the ticket kiosk. Fortunately, one of my friends was able to spot me.
When in doubt, ask first! It didn’t take long for me to learn that the simplest way to make sure my credit card was going to work at a shop or restaurant was to ask someone first. Even though I didn’t speak any of the languages that I encountered in Europe, all I had to do upon walking into the grocery store was to greet a clerk with a smile, make a swiping motion in midair with my credit card, and then look at the clerk inquisitively. They either understood what I was asking and nodded “yes” or “no”, or they would respond with a motion of inserting an imaginary chip card into a reader, at which point I would thank them and leave.
Still have questions? Check out these additional resources:
Rick Steves – Chip and PIN cards
LA Times – Chip and PIN? Chip and signature? Here’s what travelers need to know
TIME – Here’s why your credit card now has a chip and why you should care
Bankrate.com – Will your credit card work abroad?
US News – Chip and PIN cards to consider before traveling to Europe
CreditCards.com – American travelers’ guide to chip-and-PIN cards