Travel Expert and Radio Talk Show Host Stephanie Abrams - Travelers411 Travel Radio Shownotes - December 26, 2009
"Travelers411" Radio Show - December 26, 2009 - Show Archive

Tourism Authority of Thailand; US Department of State, Passport Office; Serendipity3, New York City; aka Central Park Hotel in NYC.

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Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams says that Thailand is a contemporary and exciting country that is immersed in history and tradition. She says also that it is “culturally delightful”. Pichaya Saisaengchan, Assistant Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand joins the “Travelers 411” Radio Show. Saisaengchan is informally known as Khun Pop. He recently moved to New York to assume the title of Assistant Director but was formerly responsible for marketing Thailand in Southeast Asia and southern Asia.

Thailand Booth at the New York Times Travel Show in 2009.
Thailand Booth at the New York Times Travel Show in 2009.

Khun Pop states that Thailand is a great destination for a traveler who is looking to escape the cold New England winter weather. Stephanie attests to the fabulous climate. She has been to the country multiple times and says that immediately upon arrival in Bangkok she goes to the night market. Khun Pop says other visitors head straight for the spa. Stephanie says when she is in Bangkok one of her favorite places to stay is the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. She raves about the service there and the added convenience of the mall that is attached to the property. Stephanie visits a tailor in the mall who she says does amazing work at an unbeatable price.


Stephanie says that many Americans are accustomed to warm days during the summer but cool air at night. She says Thailand in contrast is consistently warm. Khun Pop says that it has become a popular beach destination for that reason. The ocean water, he says, is warm and crystal blue in color.

Many people think primarily of Bangkok, Thailand's capital city, when considering a trip to Thailand. Khun Pop says that those who haven't traveled within the country should also visit Chiang Mai in the northern part of the country. Bangkok is roughly in the country's center and the country is large with a southern tip that extends to the Malay Peninsula. Khun Pop says that Chiang Mai is the center of Thailand's culture and natural attractions. The city is located in a mountainous area and has a large population of elephants. Thailand is famous for its domesticated population of elephants. Elephants were used in Thailand's logging industry for many years until logging was banned in 1989. The elephants have now become an integral part of the tourism industry. Khun Pop states that there are many other jungle activities to experience in the north as well.


The Thai New Year is celebrated every year from April 13 to April 15. One of the most common celebration practices is for people everywhere to throw water at one another (customarily from a bucket but water guns are also used). Mid-April is the hottest time of year in Thailand and Khun Pop says it is believed that water will make you “happy, mentally satisfied and physically at ease”. Khun Pop says if you don't want to get wet during the celebration period “stay home”. Every province in the country practices water throwing during the Thai New Year.

In southern Thailand is the island of Phuket which is considered the capital of tourism in the south. Khun Pop says that many tourists travel to Thailand primarily for the beaches. In addition to Phuket the island of Ko Samui is another popular beach destination.

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In past decades American travelers have had the freedom to travel to most Caribbean islands and Canada without the need of a passport. All that was required was a birth certificate with a raised seal and a secondary form of photo identification. Travel documentation needs have become increasingly stricter in recent decades. Stephanie faced difficulty when recently traveling in the south of France. Her passport is valid until August 2013 however the document is out of room to stamp by officials. Stephanie is now in the process of having additional pages put in her passport.

Jamiss Sebert at the New York Times Travel Show in 2009.
Jammiss E. Sebert at the New York Times Travel Show in 2009.

The US Department of State Passport Office is currently adding more passport agencies to cities nationwide. Many will be placed strategically near the borders between the US and Mexico and the US and Canada. There is currently an office in Miami where many cruises for the Caribbean leave from. Others were recently opened including one in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Detroit. The Passport Office is also looking to open other agencies in San Diego, Atlanta, Buffalo, and in the state of Vermont.

Airport Security Checkpoint.
Airport Security Checkpoint.

The Canadian winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia in February, 2010. Stephanie says it is now necessary for Americans traveling to Canada to have a passport. If people are flying or driving to Canada they should apply for documentation at their local passport facility which might be a post office, courthouse or at a municipal library. If you visit the US Department of State Passport Office's website you can enter you zip code and get a listing of the ten nearest locations.

VIA Rail Canada Train Station in Toronto Canada.
VIA Rail Canada Train Station in Toronto Canada.

Travel Expert and Radio Show Host Stephanie Abrams says that her daughter's first passport was an amendment to Stephanie's own passport. Stephanie realized later that if anything were to happen to her it would pose a difficulty for her husband to take their daughter out of the country since she was attached to Stephanie's passport. Since the 1980's everyone has had to have their own passport no matter how old they are. Children's passports are valid for five years.

VIA Rail Canada Train Station in Toronto Canada.
VIA Rail Canada Train Station in Toronto Canada.

Stephanie points out that if you are living in Western Massachusetts or New York it is an easy trip to Montreal but you have to have a passport to visit. A smaller fee is needed to obtain a passport card which allows people to drive into Canada though not travel to the country by plane. The passport card is also valid for cruise travel to the Caribbean but most cruise companies want you to have a passport. If there was an emergency and you had to fly home you would need a passport to leave the country you were visiting.

US Customs and Boarder Patrol Officer
US Customs and Boarder Patrol Officer at the Department of Homeland Security Booth at the New York Times Travel Show in 2009.

There is no fee for the process of adding pages onto an existing passport as long as you don't need it in a hurry. If you need the passport within two weeks or less there is an expedite fee. Jamiss Sebert, Agency Director for the US Department of State, Passport Office says that if you know you are going to do a lot of traveling it is possible to request a fifty-two page passport. The normally allocated amount of pages is twenty-eight. The extra pages cost no additional money and Sebert says it will save you the time down the line. Frequent travelers may need to do any early renewal of their passport. Even with pages added the physical integrity of the document may be comprised and the passport could become invalid. The Passport Office may recommend an early renewal of the document for frequent travelers.

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Guests Include:

Pichaya Saisaengchan, Assistant Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Jamiss E. Sebert, Director, U.S. Department of State, Passport Office.

Hour 2 - Encore Presentation of october 17, 2009 Hour 1

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Serendipty3, located at 225 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue in New York City, is arguably a pilgrimage site for many Manhattan visitors. The restaurant is celebrating its 55th anniversary in 2009. There you can have an amazing hot fudge sundae or their unbeatable trademark drink, the Frozen Hot Chocolate. Stephanie says it is not the usual “lets go out for ice-cream shop”. Stephen Bruce, Co-Founder and Owner, started the business with two other associates. His partners were from Little Rock, Arkansas and passed on some key points to success: “Be very gracious, serve very good food and don't change a thing”. Stephanie says that the look of the restaurant is the same as when she was in college. The menu is also relatively unchanged.

Serendipty3 is a boutique restaurant specializing in unique and unusual dishes but also classic comfort foods. Serendipty3 is famous for its oversized portions and its desserts but there is variety in its menu items. Classic menu items include: the lemon icebox pie, pecan pie, chicken and beef casseroles and the foot long hot dog with chili. During her last trip Stephanie enjoyed a shrimp salad and cantaloupe entree. She said it was beautifully presented and delicious but also healthy enough that Stephanie felt a frozen hot chocolate was justified. Stephen Bruce states we “don't count calories here but we do make sure that people have a very good time”. The restaurant receives visitors from around the world. Recent celebrity guests include Beyonce and Jay Z.

Serendipty 3
Interior of Serendipty 3 in New York City.

Serendipty3 is also famous for its atmosphere which includes funky design features and marble table tops. At the front of the restaurant is its renowned store. Stephanie has made many purchases from the shop over the years. The shop also specializes in Christmas items including decorations. This year the restaurant will release “Serendipity Christmas Balls” in silver and gold. They also have cookie jars shaped like cups of Frozen Hot Chocolate. Stephanie says that visitors are able to purchase a unique and special gift that someone's not going to get a dozen of.

Serendipty 3
Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipty 3 in New York City.

Stephen Bruce, one of the founders and owners of Serendipty3 says that the restaurant's Frozen Hot Chocolate drink has been a true blessing. He and his partners invented the formula in 1954. It includes a blend of fourteen different kinds of chocolate, ice and milk and is topped with whip cream. The owners of Serendipity are now selling the drink worldwide and featuring it at their New York City store. The hot chocolate is available by mail and comes with detailed instructions on how to make it. Stephanie says that Serendipty3's success is owed to the “Intersection of having something special and meeting public demand”.

Stephen Bruce
Photograph of Owner of Serendipty3 Stephen Bruce.

New York City is easily accessible from Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Stephanie says that it is a lovely drive alongside the Hudson River to Albany, New York and a quick trip from Albany to Penn Station, NYC by Amtrak.

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Travel Expert and Radio Show Host Stephanie Abrams will be recording interviews as well as broadcasting live from several destinations over the next several months in Mexico, Ireland, England and France. While in London she is supposed to attend a flight attendant orientation and operate a British Airways flight simulator.

Eduardo Wichtendahl, Chef at Zibo
Interview in Acapulco, Mexico with Eduardo Wichtendahl, Chef at Zibo Restaurant.

Stephanie will also be in Ireland and overnight at the ‘d' hotel in Drogheda which is located approximately an hour north of London. She plans to tour Slane Castle in County Meath with the Earl of Mount Charles. She will also be at Lough Rynn Castle in County Leitrim. She has been at Lough Rynn before and refers to it as “gorgeous and very homey”. Her prior stay was just a quick overnight so she is hoping this time to stay a few days at the property and explore the surrounding county. Stephanie is also going to Kilronan Castle in Roscommon which is in close proximity to Lanesborough, Ireland, the sister city of Lanesborough, Massachusetts, where Stephanie resides. She will be exploring that part of the midlands and then will be at Castlemartyr in Cork.

Parade in Lanesborough, Ireland
Parade in Lanesborough, Ireland.

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Aka Central Park in New York City is a residential property that serves a cliental of both business and pleasure travelers. Stephanie says that it is a challenge to find spacious rooms in a hotel in a metropolitan area, especially within older buildings. The aka Central Park is a young property, only two years old and one that is somewhat hidden. Jeff Poirot, General Manager of the aka Central Park Hotel says, that the property does not have a huge sign or flags outside. It is meant to be a residents' building. The property is unassuming yet, as Poirot points out, “When you walk inside it is everything and anything that you would want in a place to stay for a short time or even a long time”.

aka Central Park hotel
Room Interior of the aka Central Park Hotel.

Stephanie says the silver gray color scheme of the property is peaceful and that the outside architecture is modest but “proper and imposing”. The lobby is sleek with clean lines and uncluttered. Stephanie compares the style to a museum of contemporary art. The effect of it is achieved not by adding anything but in eliminating certain things.

Poirot says that when you are greeted by staff it is as if “you really are walking in to your home”. The property has 134 units which range from the 325 square foot studios with small but fully stocked kitchenettes to one bedroom suites that are 600 to 900 square feet. These have full kitchens with all dishware, glassware and tupperware. Poirot says that “they really do act as apartments for the residents who occupy them”. He also comments that the location is an “Epicenter of New York [as it is] a stone's throw from the biggest backyard in the world; Central Park”.

aka Central Park hotel
Room Interior of the aka Central Park Hotel.

The property is a playland for kids and adults. There is a running map available at the property and many activities in the nearby vicinity including some of the best shopping and food in the world. Bergdorf Goodman and FAO Schwartz are within walking distance. The hotel is partnered with Quality Meats, which Poirot says is a fantastic place to eat dinner. Also close by is Rue 57 restaurant, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History. The property offers Fred Astaire tap dance lessons and also a photography school. Poirot says that guests, “live the aka brand”. 

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Fun Facts:

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams recommends Patsy's restaurant in Manhatten on 56th between 8th and 9th avenues.

Stephanie was honored by the Sisters of Mercy mid-Atlantic community. The Sisters always honor two sisters in the community and two laymen in the community. Stephanie was honored alongside the family that owns Patsys.

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Travel Tips:

The current Dollar to Euro conversion is 1 Euro for 1.45 USD. In 1980 there were three French francs to the dollars. Ten months later when she traveled again to France the conversion rate was ten francs to the dollar. She said she bought everything she saw.

Stephanie says her current France travel budget is devoted to food and lodging rather than shopping.

The amount of money you are allowed to spend on purchases for personal use in order to clear customs without fees has gone up dramatically. In 1980 it was $400 per person. You could aggregate by person so that a 4 person family would be able to make purchases up to $1600 USD. Typically if you buy a lot of things you might want to ship it ahead and services like freight forwarders make this convenient.

Guests Include:

Stephen Bruce, Founder and Owner, Serendipity3, New York City, New York.

Jeff Poirot, General Manager, aka Central Park Hotel, New York City, New York.

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Have you been to Serendipity3 on 60th Street in New York City? Serendipity3 offers their signature Frozen Hot Chocolate and hot fudge sundays. Yum! Hungry? Have a yummy brunch, lunch, pre and post theatre dinners and munchables in an atmosphere designed to make the best memories.

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