Category Archives: Europe

Travel News: State Dept says Renew your US Passport Now

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State Dept. Says Renew Your Expiring US Passport Now!

In general, for regular applications, the State Department lists the turnaround time as 6-8 weeks (although wait times usually end up shorter than that), and by paying an extra fee you can have that cut down to 2-3 weeks. In urgent circumstances, travelers can get a same-day passport renewal at a local passport office, if they can prove they are traveling sooner than the normal wait time. While the State Department promises to do a better job of staying on top of the flood of applications than they did ten years ago, if your expiration date ends in a seven, better to get on it early–specially because applications tend to spike in spring and summer as people gear up for vacation. And remember, some countries require you to have six months of validity left to enter, not something you want to find out the hard way. On average, the State Department processes around 13 million passport applications a year–last year, it saw 16.8 applications-so while 20.5 million is out of the norm, the State Department has seemingly learned to expect major increases of this magnitude every ten years when that initial flood of passports is up for renewal.

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Goway lays out Peru’s new rules for visiting Machu Picchu

New admission rules for Machu Picchu, which (as of now) go into effect January 2018. Ticket sales will be divided into a morning ticket 8am to 12pm and an afternoon ticket 12pm to 5:30pm. Change in cost for a ticket has not been announced. Travelers can buy both to spend a full day at the site. “Initially this change was to begin mid-2017, but after consultations with tour operators locally and internationally the date has been unofficially moved to Jan 2018,” says Goway. The number of visitors has grown annually, from low hundred thousands in 1980s to a peak of 1.4 million tourists in 2014. The ticket changes are an attempt to ease the stress on the fragile ruins, and keep it in good shape and accessibility for future travelers.  

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Holland America Adds Cuba Calls

Holland America Line has received approval to begin sailing to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, starting with the Dec. 22, 2017, 12-day holiday cruise aboard the Veendam, according to a statement from the company. The addition of Veendam itineraries will help meet the growing demand for premium cruise experiences to Cuba, the company said. Nine seven-day itineraries will feature the capital city Havana, and three of these will add another Cuba call at Cienfuegos. Depending on the departure day, cruises include the Cuba ports, as well as a combination of Caribbean ports, including Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; Belize City, Belize; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; Key West, Florida; and Montego Bay, Jamaica. The series of Cuban cruises will debut with the Dec. 22, 2017, 12-day holiday sailing roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale. In addition to the seven-day cruises, an 11-day spring cruise sails March 17, 2018, and also features the Cuban ports of Havana and Cienfuegos, as well as Key West, Cozumel, Montego Bay and Georgetown. The final seven-day Cuba sailing departs on April 18, 2018.

 

 

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Filed under Cuba, Europe, Goway, holland america, News, Peru

Cruising in Stockholm Archipelago

Today WIT Blogger Wailana reports from the archipelago in Stockholm. Thousands of islands cluster off the east coast of Sweden, and no better time to explore them than in summer! Sunshine and a lofty 68 degrees F make for a perfect Wednesday excursion. The m/s Vindhem departs at least biweekly from Gamla Stan, with dinner, live music, and all you can eat shrimp. After a full day of sightseeing, it’s just a short hop on the boat at 7pm.

Check out Wailana’s photos!

Wish you were in Europe this summer or fall? Give out agents a call! 503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com. Hope to see you and your family in the great European capitals before long.

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7 Reasons why Portugal is going to be the “Next Big Thing”

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The New York Post called Portugal “Europe’s Newest Darling,” and we wholeheartedly agree. Stunningly beautiful valleys and coastlines, a wealth of historic sights, wine cruises and cute trolleys—what’s not to love? Portugal has long been overlooked for its flashier neighbor Spain, and obvious attractions of France and Italy—our only question is: really, why did it take so long?

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1. Lisbon: The Tram and the Coffee.

Portugal’s adorable capital has all the charming trappings of any historic European city, but without the fanfare, the crowds or the crazy prices. Considering Paris or Rome this fall? Why not opt for Lisbon, where a night at a five-star hotel will set you back less than a measly 100 euros? Plus with postcard-perfect architecture, cute cobblestone streets and vibrant food culture, Portugal has a wealth to offer the “been-there-done-that” traveler to Europe. Did we mention the cutest tram that’s been operating for nearly a century? Oh yeah—and the pasteis de nada, custard tarts, that are said to be so mouth-watering its more like a religious experience.

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2. Porto: Wine and Bookshops.

Porto is famous for its eponymous wine, winner of numerous vinous awards, but did you know the town also plays a part in Harry Potter history? The cute bookstore Livraria Lello and its grand staircases were reportedly inspirations behind Rowling’s architecture in the HP series. Potter pilgrims have flocked to Lello for years, and the crowds are so thick that the store has begun to charge each person four euros for entry. The staircases were designed by one Xavier Esteves, an engineer with a passion for literature. Built in 1906 by the brothers Lello, the bookshop houses a sumptuous collection of bound books and a staircase so iconic, that it continues to inspire authors of all creeds and nationalities to this day.

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3. Sintra and its Coral Palace.

A mere 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, the hilltop town of Sintra is more fairytale dream than anything. Here the traveler will find spectacular castles and elegant palaces in the midst of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The Palácio da Pena was a modest chapel before it was transformed by King Fernando in the 19th century into a picturesque palace more akin to an underwater fortress. With its pink, yellow and gray facade, stone triton statue, Moorish tilework and stone columns resembling a coral reef, the palace is the pinnacle expression of aquatic grandeur if I ever saw one.

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4. The Endless Coastline.

The famous, West-facing coastline of Portugal means that there are idyllic sunsets nearly every evening. With over 800 km of coast, it’s no wonder that here you’ll find some of the best seafood dishes, world-class surfing hotspots and marine biomes in Europe! From volcanic sands of the Azores, to sandy beaches of Costa Vicentina, to the magnificent cliffs of the Algarve, Portugal’s beaches are no laughing matter. Seafood is always fresh, from the octopus salad to the Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork with clams). Speaking of surfing, this is where some of the world’s best surfers come to practice—Nazaré is home to the largest surfed wave in recorded history—that’s a whopping 30m!

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5. The Beautiful, Timeless Azores.

Azores have been dubbed the “European Hawaii” and the “Next Iceland” and while we don’t know about that, it’s certainly a place for tropical adventure. Popular islands for free diving, waterfall rapelling, volcano hikes and whale-watching. Located 1500km off the coast, it’s a tropical island in Europe, with lakes, volcanoes and mountain.

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6. The Tour Guides are Amazing.

Okay, we’re biased with this one, but because Willamette Intl Travel has an awesome contact based in Portugal! Our local guide Anselmo Goncalves has been our go-to guide in Portugal and Spain for years! Our clients always rave about him. Join him for an unforgettable day tour through Lisbon and Sintra, or embark on a multi-day trip that celebrates wine in the Douro Valley.

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7. A Millennium of History.

Portugal has had the same borders since the 11th century—that means incredible historic preservation, and plentiful old castles and sites. Coimbra is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. And who can forget the mighty ramparts of Moorish-inspired Sao Jorge Castle that overlooks Lisbon?

Plus:

  • Azulejos tile art.
  • Melancholic Fado music.
  • Madeira’s non-volcanic pools surrounded by lava rocks and aquamarine waters.
  • Sea Cave Tours in the Algarve.
  • Ride a gondola in Aveiro with picturesque waterways.

And the best part? It’s still relatively undiscovered by tourists! Which means the crowds aren’t there yet. Expect to find many authentic and tranquil places, a far cry from Venice and Barcelona.

Read more about Portugal on our blog:

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Travel News: Irish Beach reappears 33 years after vanishing into Atlantic Ocean

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Delta Passengers Can Now Check Their Bags By Scanning Their Face 

Mashable reports Delta passengers will soon be able to check their bags via a facial recognition scanner that uses biometric technology to match their passport photos to their face. The new technology is the first of its kind in the US and Delta hopes it will help both customers and airline agents save time during check-in. Launch details: Delta has invested $600,000 in 4 biometric self-service bag drop machines, which will be placed in Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport this summer, but only one will include the facial recognition software. Delta will then collect customer feedback to determine how and when it will expand it other airports. Privacy experts have urged government agencies and airlines to be cognizant of the risks involved when implementing this type of technology, “especially if it’s found that they are cross-checking facial images with law enforcement databases without permission.” Delta has insisted it will protect customer’s privacy, and will not save anyone’s information or images of their faces.

American Duchess To Launch Service In August From New Orleans

The American Queen Steamboat Company will launch service with its new American Duchess from New Orleans on Aug. 14, 2017. Inland riverboat cruising has boomed for the Port of New Orleans in recent years, growing 40 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, as the Port welcomed 21,391 passengers on three homeported paddle wheelers sailing on the Lower Mississippi River, according to a press release from the port. Other Louisiana stops on the American Duchess itinerary include the Nottoway Antebellum Mansion in White Castle, the historic district in downtown St. Francisville, and museums and attractions in Baton Rouge.

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Irish Beach reappears 33 years after vanishing into Atlantic Ocean

A beach that was swept away more than 30 years ago from a remote island off the west coast of Ireland has reappeared after thousands of tons of sand were deposited on top of the rocky coastline. Dooagh beach is now back after a storm returned sand to it, 30 years after another storm had stripped all the sand off the beach, on Achill island, County Mayo, Ireland, The 300 meter beach near the tiny village of Dooagh on Achill Island vanished in 1984 when storms stripped it of its sand, leaving nothing more than a series of rock pools. But after high spring tides last month, locals found that the Atlantic Ocean had returned the sand. The popular beach once sustained four hotels and a number of guesthouses on the west coast of the island of 2,600 people.

The island, the largest off the coast of Ireland, forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a tourist trail stretching from the south of the country to the north-west that has benefited from a tourist boom in the European Union’s fastest-growing economy.

Newest Celebrity Edge, will have Malala Yousafzai as godmother

Celebrity Cruises named human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai godmother to the line’s newest ship, Celebrity Edge, which launches in late 2018. She will christen the ship in Fort Lauderdale in December 2018. Celebrity is also partnering with Yousafzai’s nonprofit foundation, the Malala Fund, to help tell her story and raise money for the more than 130 million girls who do not have access to 12 years of schooling. “The godmother is a beacon for what we stand for and what we believe in,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity, adding that among the brand’s strongest commitments is a belief in gender parity, equality and diversity. As part of the partnership, Celebrity Cruises is making a “significant donation” to the Malala Fund. Additionally, the cruise line will begin showing the documentary “He Named Me Malala” on the in-cabin TVs (both passenger and crew cabins) on all of its ships. The line will also “in the very near future” start selling the book “I Am Malala,” along with Malala Fund t-shirts and a co-created Celebrity Cruises and Malala Fund piece of merchandise on all ships. All proceeds from these items will go directly to the Malala Fund. Celebrity will also provide a custom Malala Fund URL onboard its ships that cruisers and crew can use to donate to the fund.

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New Japanese luxury train even has a fireplace on board

From the BBC: The Train Suite Shiki-shima is designed to give you the ultimate luxury experience: tickets range from $2,860 to around $10,000 and you can choose between a two- or four-day trip. The Shiki-shima had its maiden journey on 1 May. The train was built to the plans of designer Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama and is being advertised as using only the best of materials, many linked to traditional Japanese craftsmanship. The train will take you from Tokyo to the northernmost island Hokkaido, and carries 34 passengers. There are trips with one or three nights on board to choose from. The plans for the train were announced by the East Japan Railway Company in 2014 and there has been crazy demand now the train is finally here. A lottery for seats on launch day was said to have been over-subscribed by a factor of 76. Tickets for the 10-car train are sold out until March 2018. The food will be prepared by Michelin star chefs and presented by uniformed butlers. Everything on board aims to rival the experience of a top-end luxury hotel. 

Disney Wonder is the first ship through the expanded Panama Canal locks

Although passenger ships first made their way down the Panama Canal back in 1914, and millions have done so in the last century, the world’s most famous man-made waterway saw the beginning of a new era this weekend when a cruise ship crossed the recently expanded locks for the first time. The Disney Wonder, a 2,713-passenger ship, passed through the canal’s new locks on April 29 as part of its 14-day trip from Florida to San Diego. As USA Today reports, the 83,308-ton ship had used the canal in the past, but it was too wide to travel the old route after the ship was expanded in 2016. On April 1, the Panama Canal began accepting booking requests for passenger vessels in the new locks. So far, 18 reservations have already been made for passenger vessels to transit the Expanded Canal for the 2017-2018 season, a number which is expected to increase in the coming months. To put things in perspective: The old locks measured 1,000 feet by 110 feet by 42 feet; the new locks are 1,400 feet by 180 feet by 60 feet. The ten-deck Wonder is 106 feet wide, leaving about 35 feet of water on either side of the boat in the new locks. It’s cozy, but it does the job. The canal upgrade began in 2007 but encountered a number of problems along the way; it finally opened in 2016, two years behind schedule and about $1 billion dollars over budget, for a total cost of $5 billion, according to NPR. But it came about to keep up with recently expanded Suez Canal, and to allow larger cargo ships to transit the isthmus, rather than having to circumnavigate the southern cone of South America, which adds 8,000 miles to a journey.

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Filed under Disney, Disney Cruises, Europe, Ireland, Japan, USA

5 Ways Ferry Travel in Europe is Just Awesome

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All Aboard the Ferry!

In the era of global air travel, boats and trains have quickly become the romantic alternative to transportation. If you’re traveling in Europe overland, opt for the comfortable and spacious train to get you from A to B. But if you’re traveling over the water—opt out of the time-consuming and cramped plane—and opt into the slow and languid pace of a ferry.

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Ketchup & Mustard, Peas & Carrots, Ferries & Lighthouses

Here are 5 Ways Ferry Travel in Europe is Just Awesome:

1. Wherever you go, no ferry is alike.

They’re different from country to country, from service line to service line. Some ferries are stocked with facilities like karaoke and bars; others are barebone! Some have cabins and others just seats! Most however offer food and refreshments for your trip, and a closed-off area protected from the elements.

What does that mean for you? You’ll never get bored! And there’s something for all styles of travel.

Sometimes ferries sail overnight, saving on the cost of a hotel room. They can carry cars, bikes as well as passengers, and usually operate year-round (depending on the climate of course!).

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Where are we heading today?

2. They are THE BEST way to explore those hard-to-reach places.

How do you get around the achingly beautiful Dalmatian isles without a sailboat? How do you hop from one continent to the next, Spain to Africa, in a mere half-hour? How to navigate the stunning Norwegian fjords? On a ferry of course!

3. Longer sailings can open up a whole new world.

Though most European ferry rides can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, longer rides can be a terrific way to see the continent! Hop on a Baltic cruise from Stockholm to Riga, Latvia. It’s overnight, you get your own dinner and cabin, and in the morning wake up to a new land altogether!

Another incredible ferry journey you can brag about is the voyage from Hanstholm in Denmark to Seydisfjördur in Iceland on the Smyril Line. It’s the only way for the average traveler to reach Iceland by boat. The ship stops in Torshavn in the Faroe Islands—that’s three awesome destinations in one go! That certainly beats a predictable plane ride, cramped in a tight place for 5-8 hours, right?

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Water Tracks

4. They make for incredible memories.

Some of my favorite travel days were on ferries—the sporadic ferry from Sarandë to Corfu, the short ride from Klaipeda to Nida, the wealth of ferry systems within Stockholm city. They move slowly but are perfect ways to enjoy the wind on your face. Out on the open sea, blue waves and sunshine—watching the waters unfurl out behind you—it can be exhilarating for some. Some international ferry routes are covered by a rail pass.

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Wait — that’s not Europe!

5. They’re casual.

None of that rushing to the airport — checking your luggage — going through security nonsense. You show up, show your ticket and it’s all aboard! Though some ferry lines require booking your cabin before your trip, with others you can just buy at the ticket window an hour before departure. You’ll want to watch for peak travel times, though, as sometimes tickets can sell out. For overnight ferries, reserving your cabin is a must! Check with your travel agent for the details!

Ferry Services

There are dozens of ferry services, but some of the more popular are:

Greece: http://www.greekferries.gr/

England, Ireland, Sweden, Norway: http://www.stenaline.nl/en-GB-nl

DFDS: https://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/

Croatia: http://www.jadrolinija.hr/en/ferry-croatia

Finland, Sweden, Estonia: https://www.vikingline.com/en/

Baltic Sea: https://www.tallinksilja.se

France: http://www.poferries.com/

Corsica, Sardinia: https://www.corsica-ferries.co.uk/

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Berth or Cabin?

By the way, ever wondered what the difference between a cabin and a berth is? You will if you book an overnight ferry!

A cabin is a ship bedroom. A berth is somewhere to sleep, a bed or bunkbed. For a couple, book a 2-berth cabin. When making reservations, some cabins offer a selection of choices: outside, inside, food included, private bathroom, wash basin only, no washing facilities. Watch out for shared cabins—you might sleep in the same cabin with a fellow traveler! When in doubt, ask your travel agent!

Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com for our Portland-based travel experts!

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4 Family-Friendly Cruise Lines (you wouldn’t expect!)

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Today is the International Day of Families! The theme of this year? Education and Well-being. In celebration of the day, we’re taking look at a couple cruise lines that, at first glance, you wouldn’t think are family-friendly—but actually are.

A good kids’ program can transform a “week stuck with Mom & Dad” into an awesome summer break! Why not make it fun for everyone?

Of course, number one on the list is naturally Disney. But Disney’s ships were kind of made for kids—what about those cruise lines that cater mostly to adults, AND have a fantastic kids’ program on top of it? You might be surprised at the results. Here are our Top 5 Family-Friendly Cruise Lines that you wouldn’t expect!

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Uniworld

Uniworld was named #1 River Cruise Line for Families by Travel + Leisure readers four years in a row! This is thanks to their Uniworld Generations Family Cruise program, where kids cruise for half-price! For every accompanying adult, a child between 4 and 18, qualifies for 50% savings. Set your kids on a firsthand experiential course into history, culture and geography. In 2017 they offer nine itineraries in Europe: Danube, Rhine, Paris, Normandy, German Christmas markets, Italy and more! Includes onshore excursions for curious minds and kid-friendly menus.

Crystal Cruises

Kids transform into world explorers aboard Crystal Cruises. On select itineraries, they even sail Free! Junior Cruisers can enjoy scavenger hunts, cookie decorating, team games, karaoke, and video games. What’s cool about these Kids Sail Free Voyages, they also come with added perks for the parents, including 2-for-1 cruise-only fares, complimentary select alcohols, complimentary gratuities, complimentary computer and fitness programs and a free evening of specialty dining.

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Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises offers a really cool youth program, each uniquely designed by age group: toddlers, kids, teens and young adults. Science, arts and crafts, air hockey–whatever your kid’s into lately, it seems like they’ve got it in stock. And the fun isn’t even confined to the ship. For example, on an Alaska cruise excursion, preteens can sign up for the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program and learn all about Alaska’s animals and rugged terrain.

Royal Caribbean

RC does it in style, with rock-climbing walls, zippiness, ice rinks and bumper cars! The DreamWorks experience is a unique Royal Caribbean option where you can meet, dine and go on a scavenger hunt with your favorite characters from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and How to Train Your Dragon.  

And as always, ask your WIT travel agent for details on which itineraries are best for your family, and how can you get that sweet cruise deal you’ve been looking for! Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

THIS WEEK: We welcome back Nancy, WIT Agent Extraordinaire, who was recently in Europe on a Barcelona-Windstar Cruise-Amalfi Coast Extravaganza! We look forward to her feedback and photos soon! ALSO: WIT Agent Rachael is in Puerto Vallarta this week! What great photos those will be. Stay tuned!

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Filed under Caribbean, Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruises, Europe, Princess Cruises, UniWorld, Windstar Cruises

Travel News: Can Online Passport Renewal be on the Way?

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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.

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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.

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Filed under Europe, Royal Caribbean, Viking Cruises