Can Online Passport Renewal Be On The Way?
Travel Market reports the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is considering online passport renewals, according to a story in Federal News Radio. Speaking on a panel at a symposium in Washington last week, community relations officer for passport services Carl Siegmund said State is looking to roll out a limited, online renewal option in mid-2018, “along with new push notifications to help applicants stay informed on the status of their applications,” including updates via email and SMS text. “We’re trying to move from paper to digital,” Siegmund said. Fifteen percent of passport applicants have issues, the top reason being passport photos. Currently, photos are submitted to the State Department’s passport services office through a third party or directly from the applicant, and they often are of “low quality or grainy,” and this can add three or four weeks to processing time. The passport services office being more directly involved in accepting a passport would greatly reduce the issue, Siegmund said. The State Department expects 21 million Americans to apply for passports in 2017 and 20.4 million in 2018, up from 14.5 million in 2015 and 16.8 million in 2016. Siegmund also said that in 2016, the passport services call center received 1.4 million phone calls for application status checks.
Viking Creates All-Suite Design For New Nile Riverboat
A recently acquired Nile River vessel is being stripped down to the steel in a complete renovation that reflects Viking River Cruises’ Scandinavian design. Viking Ra will carry just 48 passengers on a new Egypt cruise-tour, ‘Pharaohs & Pyramids,’ set to launch in March 2018. Rebuilt as an all-suite vessel, Viking Ra’s interiors will be designed by the same team responsible for the Viking Longships. The look will mingle Scandinavian design and local influences like traditional geometric Arabic patterns and terrazzo floors. The Restaurant will serve three full meals and a selection of regional and international fare. Other rooms include a clinker-built bar, The Lounge with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and The Spa for massages and other treatments. Three accommodations categories, each 291 square feet, include 20 Veranda Suites with a full-size veranda in the living room and a French balcony in the bedroom. All suites have premium amenities such as a hotel-style bed, luxury linens, sofa, bathroom with shower, air conditioning and flat-screen televisions. In addition to two Jacuzzis, Viking Ra features a pool at the back of the ship, while a sanctuary from the sun is provided by sculptural ‘sail-shades’ inspired by local dhows and intricate mashrabiya-influenced screens surrounding the Pool and Sun Deck.
Royal Caribbean Announces Return To New Orleans
RCI has announced Vision of the Seas will return to New Orleans with a seasonal home-based cruise ship in late 2018. The Vision of the Seas will sail seven-night itineraries to the Bahamas and Yucatan Peninsula from the Port of New Orleans’ Julia Street Cruise Terminal. The ship will sail on Saturdays. Before repositioning to New Orleans on Dec. 15, 2018, Vision of the Seas will offer two 16-night sailings through the Panama Canal from Miami to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to New Orleans, marking the first time in three years a Royal Caribbean cruise ship will traverse the Panama Canal.
Airport installs Departure Terminal Prayer Booth
In a bid to calm the nerves of fearful flyers, a prayer booth has landed at one airport in Germany. The bright red cubicle, installed at Stuttgart Airport’s Terminal 3, features 300 prayers from various religions in 65 different languages. For no fee, travelers can enter the converted photo booth and use a touch screen to select their prayer of choice, from a Tibetan monk chant to the soothing remarks from an American TV preacher. The prayer booth is an offer by the airport’s chaplains to provide a moment of contemplation. Designed by Berlin artist Oliver Sturm, the booth offers a vast variety of prayers, including the Christian Lord’s Prayer, the Jewish Shma Israel and the Islamic muezzin’s call to prayer. The Hindu Hare Krishna chant, Buddhist sutras and prayers of Shamans from New Guinea are also available to play. In addition to the big monotheistic faiths, polytheistic religions and animist beliefs are also included. The ‘Gebetomat’, which roughly translates as ‘Pray-o-Mat’, was first designed by Sturm in 2008. Its red cabin has a gray curtain and an adjustable swivel chair inside. The booth is free of charge and will be available for three months at Stuttgart Airport’s boarding area next to Gate 310. The artist writes on his home page that ‘all prayers are real prayers of believers, gathered in worship, prayer rooms, homes’. Sturm has designed several prayer booths in recent years that have been installed at schools, universities and museums.