US holiday costs, passport confusion and cruise views: Simon Calder tackles your travel questions

The Independent’s travel correspondent tackles all your holiday queries

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 02 September 2022 11:22 BST
Golden horizon: Downtown Orlando, Florida
Golden horizon: Downtown Orlando, Florida (Simon Calder)

As September begins and the pound slumps, Simon Calder took readers’ questions for an hour in a live Ask Me Anything session.

Here’s the top pick of queries and answers:

US costs

Q: We will be in Florida for the first two weeks of April 2023. Hotels and motels are looking expensive for these dates. We are wondering whether to hold off booking until the new year? But we are also concerned about the pound weakening against the US dollar over the next few months, which I guess will increase prices too?

A1 Jeco

A: The last place I stayed in Orlando was at the decidedly mid-market Dockside Inn and Suites at the Universal Endless Summer Resort; it’s a reasonably good location, with a huge pool and excellent standards. I have just priced up a room for the first two weeks of April, and it comes out at $3,326. At the moment that converts to £2,853, or £202 per night – including tax but excluding breakfast.

That is about one-third more than I paid in early December 2021, but compared with current rates across the US it represents a fairly decent deal: in August, even for budget motels in the Midwest I was paying £150 for a night at times.

If I knew how the pound would perform against the US dollar I would be sunning myself in Florida right now. The people I have talked to believe that the economic guarantees made by Liz Truss, if she becomes prime minister and actually does what she has promised, will lead to a run on the pound and therefore prices in sterling everywhere abroad would increase.

Conversely, were the next leader to move closer to the European Union (ideologically highly unlikely, but you never know) sterling could strengthen as the nation’s economic prospects improve. But the best way to protect yourself against currency shocks and a range of other issues is to book a proper package holiday.

I sense, though, that you may already have your flights arranged. In that case, you might consider a house-swap – which can work very well for both parties.

Passport advice

Q: I am travelling to Croatia at the end of the month and come back on 2 October. My passport was issued on 2 January 2013 and runs out exactly 10 years later on 2 January 2023. Some chap at easyJet said I should renew my passport before I go, but I don’t think I will have time. Where do I stand?


A: After the UK’s choice to become “third country nationals” when leaving the EU, two post-Brexit conditions on validity apply to British passports for travel to the European Union:

  • Younger than 10 years old on the day you travel to the EU.
  • At least three months remaining on the day you intend to leave the EU.

Your passport evidently passes the first test – and clears the second hurdle by the smallest possible margin. It has exactly three months remaining on 2 October. Were you booked to come back a day later then you would be in trouble.

It is actually a positive that you are flying on easyJet, because this week Britain’s biggest budget airline finally put a sensible policy in place to avoid yet more cases of airport ground staff wrongly turning passengers away. I told easyJet almost a year ago exactly the rules for UK visitors to the European Union and warned the airline not to turn people away if they met the two conditions. Regrettably the carrier continued to do so, and compounded the errors by blaming passengers and refusing compensation.

At last, any decision at the airport to deny boarding to an individual based on passport validity will need to be signed off by a supervisor.

Given that they know and you know that your passport complies, you should not have a problem. Incidentally, if your homeward flight is cancelled and you end up being in Croatia with less than three months remaining on your passport, that is not an issue, either: one reason the EU put the three-month stipulation in place is to provide a cushion for unexpected events.

Finally, you probably do have enough time to renew your passport – assuming you do so online, and get everything right on the application. But in your position I wouldn’t take the risk. HM Passport Office says: “Allow up to 10 weeks to receive your passport.” This is a ludicrously long time for a simple renewal, but it means that if yours gets stuck in the system and you miss your holiday then you cannot claim compensation.

On the rails in Italy

Q: I have just arrived in the glorious Italian city of Lecce. I decided to get the train from Brindisi. I was really surprised to discover no means of getting between platforms apart from the stairs at either station. Is this typical of rail travel in Italy?


A: Bluntly, yes. Stations off the main lines in Italy – as with many rural parts of other European countries – do not provide anything like the same scale of accessibility as you would expect on transport elsewhere.

The big Italian city stations are properly equipped for people using wheelchairs, and for that matter so are most intercity trains. Mark Smith – who runs the international rail website – says: “Most fast trains … between major Italian cities have wheelchair spaces and wheelchair-accessible toilets.”

But the further you get from cities such as Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples, the less heed is paid to the needs of the less-able rail traveller, or passengers loaded down with ambitious quantities of luggage and/or children. At quieter stations, the business of installing lifts appears to be regarded as too expensive and difficult (requiring extensive remodelling), so relatively quiet stations are left as they are.

Accessibility will improve slowly, driven by European Union directives, but there is a long way to go.

Hats off, meanwhile for choosing to holiday in one of the loveliest parts of Italy: Puglia, the elegant heel of Italy. The further you venture along the stiletto, the thinner the crowds and the greater the rewards. See if you can reach the town of Santa Maria di Leuca: the exclamation mark at the southern tip of Italy’s heel, and where an excellent seafood lunch awaits at the Caffè do Mar.

Cruise views

Q: Are you ready to go cruising yet? I’m thinking about Norwegian Cruise Line, who seem to be relaxing things a bit. What are your thoughts?

David Greenwood

A: Cruising was arguably affected more by the coronavirus pandemic than any other part of the travel industry. For a time at the start of the Covid crisis, Diamond Princess – held offshore from the port at Yokohama in Japan – was itself one of the world’s leading virus hotspots.

Even now, the Foreign Office warns prospective cruise travellers: “The confined setting on board and combination of multiple households enables Covid-19 to spread faster than it is able to elsewhere.”

I joined the first UK cruise when operations restarted in May 2021. Frankly, it was weird: a ship with barely one-fifth of the normal number of passengers, mask-wearing in all public spaces and excursions allowed only on what was effectively a sealed bus. Plus testing, with the possibility always of being denied boarding – or being incarcerated in the “hospital wing” if suspected of carrying coronavirus.

Since then, things have relaxed. Cruise firms are gradually easing their protocols, but Norwegian Cruise Line requires all passengers aged 12 to be fully vaccinated and tested: “At time of check-in, all guests will be required to provide proof of a negative antigen or PCR result administered by a verified third party or via medically supervised home test.”

From my perspective, that involves a lot of hassle and risk. I think it will take until the end of the year (and, let’s hope, the run into winter without yet more Covid shocks) before conditions are relaxed and cruising as many used to know and love it will be back.

Finally, if you are tempted, a reminder that the Foreign Office also says: “Access to health care may be limited on board. For example, intensive care beds and oxygen provision are limited and urgent medical evacuation to a hospital on land may not be possible. Research the facilities on the ship you intend to sail on before booking your holiday.

“If you take specialist medication, you should take more than your journey’s duration, in case you are abroad for longer than expected.”

Indian eVisa

Q: Do you know if there is any chance of the Indian visa story changing? We are booked with Tui in December to Goa for two weeks, And we read we now have to come down to London in person to get what used to be a relatively simple eVisa? Which we could do without really.


A: Even though Indian eVisas are available for citizens of (for example) Belarus and Russia, they do not appear to be on offer for UK travellers. It seems complete madness to discourage tourism like this, and I am lobbying the High Commission in London to try to get it changed. But don’t bank on that happening before December.

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