Category Archives: North America

Travel News: Startup Plans To Send Tourists To The Edge Of Space 

 
Hapag-Lloyd Releases Statement Following Polar Bear Incident
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises released a statement on Sunday morning following a weekend incident that left a polar bear dead in Spitsbergen. ” This Saturday on a trip ashore in Spitsbergen during a BREMEN cruise an accident occurred: a polar bear guard, an expert employed by the cruise line, was attacked on land by a polar bear. The guard suffered head injuries, however, he was responsive after the attack and was airlifted. He is out of danger, with no threat to life. In an act of self-defence, unfortunately, it was necessary for the polar bear to be shot dead. We very much regret this incident. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is very aware of its responsibility when travelling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respects all nature and wildlife. To prepare for a shore leave, the polar bear guards go ashore in advance after sighting the landing site as a group and without passengers. They then set up a land station and check the area again to make sure that there are no polar bears in sight. As soon as such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately. The incident occurred when the four-person polar bear guard team, who are always on board for these expedition cruises as required by law, prepared for a shore leave. One of the guards was unexpectedly attacked by a polar bear that had not been spotted and he was unable to react himself. As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defense and to protect the life of the attacked person. The injured person was immediately provided with medical care and flown to a hospital with a rescue helicopter. We are in personal, direct contact with him. His condition is stable and he remains responsive. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has worked comprehensively and co-operatively with the Norwegian authorities to reconstruct and clarify the incident on the ground and will continue to do so.
Southwest Airlines Promises They Still Won’t Charge for Bags 
Condé Nast Traveler reports at least one airline has some good news about fees you don’t have to worry about. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in an earnings call on Thursday that the airline will continue with its policies of free checked bags, no change fees, and open seating for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that they’re potentially leaving billions of dollars on the table by doing so. I don’t think we need to change the essence of what Southwest Airlines is to still find opportunities to drive revenues,” Kelly said. While he said the company was exploring new ways to make money, he didn’t divulge details, only adding that they were “very handsome opportunities.” No need to sweat the small stuff: customers won’t see the changes for awhile, not in 2018, and perhaps not even in 2019, Kelly said. Southwest is largely fee-free, but it doesn’t assign seats; instead, passengers can shell out $15 for EarlyBird Check-In to improve their place in the boarding line so they can nab that precious window seat. They also can pay around $50 for each leg of their trip to board with the first group of passengers. The airline’s hands-off, free-bags-and-change-fees approach hits a note with travelers. The Dallas-based airline routinely bests JetBlue, Delta, United, and American when it comes to value for the money, credit card perks, and, uh, flight attendant friendliness. The airline even announced yesterday that despite rising fuel costs, its ticket prices were falling. 

Arizona Startup Plans To Send Tourists To The Edge Of Space 
Travelwirenews reports a Arizona startup plans to send tourists to the edge of space using high-altitude helium balloons, but tickets will definitely cost at least $75,000 each. World View Enterprises has plans to send passengers to a lot more than 100,000 feet above Earth’s surface. The firm will use high-altitude balloons for a ride proponents say will undoubtedly be a lot more peaceful than rocket-based systems. World View currently launches missions primarily for the government, with roughly 50 within the last year. For passenger flights, World View is rolling out a capsule dubbed Voyager, which includes windows on all sides. While it will not reach official boundary of space, passengers should be able to see Earth fall away beneath them. In just a couple of years, wealthy tourists could see themselves going for a relaxing visit to the edge of space, towed by way of a high-altitude, helium-filled balloon. World View Enterprises has been honing its flight system during the last couple of years before plans to send passengers to a lot more than 100,000 feet above Earth’s surface. World View has conducted over 50 flights within the last year. In 2015, a then-Google exec completed a record-breaking free fall from about 136,000 feet, counting on a suit and balloon developed by World View over the course of three years. At present the firm primarily conducts missions for the government, including a recently available effort to fly a military imaging system from Arizona to Mexico.
 
 
Inca Rail Upgrades Trains To Machu Picchu 
Travel Market Reports that Inca Rail in Peru was acquired by the Carlyle Groupsome two years ago and has now rebranded as Machu Picchu Trains by Inca Rail and significantly upgraded its product offering. With a $10 million investment from Carlyle, the company has refurbished its cars, enhanced the onboard experience, ratcheted up the amenities, added a 360-degree panoramic-view observation deck with an outdoor terrace, and offers a private charter service. The company expanded its first-class offering from 30 seats to 60 seats, adding a second 30-seat car, and adding an observatory lounge car between the two cars. The 360-degree observatory lounge is unique in the market, “not only because we have more panoramic windows, but it is the only train with an open terrace. It’s wonderful because since we want to deliver as full an experience as possible, this is the way the customer can experience the journey with the five senses, to see, to smell, to hear and to feel more of the journey. There are no windows so you can take pictures.” Inca Rail also upgraded the technology on the train to accommodate the needs of today’s wired travelers. “It’s also the first train that offers state-of-the-art technology, with a USB port for ISP to charge phones and iPads if you want to take pictures and don’t have batteries. It’s also the only train that has an entertainment system that lets passengers follow the trip with their phones. They can see where the train is going. There are many things to see along the way. They can hear the narration in different languages and find out what is outside, the Incan ruins or the Urubamba River. There is also music and video from the Andes. So, it’s a unique train. The company now offers four classes of service: private, first class, 360 Degree and the standard Voyager service. “For the top luxury class, we offer a private service on a chartered basis, it’s unique in market. You can charter the whole car and it’s at your disposal. You travel with a chef, staff and butler service. It includes upscale dining with a five-course meal, whisky, live music, a lounge and a bar. It’s for one to 10 people. It could be couples, families or friends. You charter the service and it’s completely private, the only private charter in the market.” Passengers can catch the train from Cuzco or Ollantaytambo. From Cuzco, the train leaves from Poroy Station, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Cuzco. The trip to Machu Picchu is about three hours. From Ollantaytambo, passengers catch the train near the site itself and the trip takes about an hour and a half. The train drops passengers off at the Machu Pichu Pueblo Hotel, formerly known as Aguas Caliente, at the foot of the final climb to the Citadel. The final leg of the trip is taken by bus. With its new, upgraded service, Inca Rail is including a private bus for the final climb. The Peruvian government implemented some restrictions, last July. There are two shifts for visitation: in the morning between 6 a.m. and noon, or from noon to 5:30 p.m. In addition, the authorities mandated that visitors have to be accompanied by a licensed tour guide so they know where to walk without damaging the site.


 
Virgin Galactic Completes Rocket Powered Test Flight
CNN reports the race to put tourists into space seems to be a glacially slow one most of the time, and then it suddenly takes a supersonic leap forward. That is what happened with Richard Branson’s long-delayed Virgin Galactic project, which last Thursday completed a rocket-powered test flight at 2.47 times the speed of sound. Carried up to an altitude of 46,500 feet over the Mojave Desert in California, Virgin’s VSS Unity was released from its mother ship before blasting into the stratosphere. With rockets blazing for 42 seconds, it then entered a near-vertical climb to 170,800 feet, approximately halfway to the edge of space. The ship then glided back down to Earth, making a successful landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The third rocket-powered outing in less than four months was hailed as the most successful yet for the project, which eventually aims to carry passengers and commercial payloads into space. It was the first to reach the mesosphere, which Virgin Galactic describes as an “under-studied atmospheric layer” because it’s beyond the range of balloon flight. “This was a new altitude record for both of us in the cockpit, not to mention our mannequin in the back, and the views of Earth from the black sky were magnificent,” Mackay added. Branson predicted it would be up and running by December in an interview released on the eve of the latest test. If Virgin Galactic gets up and running, passengers paying north of $250,000 will experience a two-and-a-half-hour flight to the edge of space. The flight will culminate with several minutes of weightlessness during which they’ll be able to float from their seats.
 
 
 
Hawaii’s Honolulu Airport Will Run On Thousands Of Solar Panels
Hawaii is doing the most when it comes to environmental conservation. The state officially banned all chemical sunscreens, which contain coral-bleaching ingredients, in early July. A number of hotels across the islands have gotten rid of plastic straws and single-use plastics (read our full list of companies that are saying no to single-use plastics). And the state has pushed to use exclusively clean energy by 2045. Hawaii’s Department of Transportation took another step, announcing that Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport will be outfitted with 4,260 solar panels by the end of November, with the aim to cut the airport’s electricity bill in half. Thousands of solar panels will cover the roof of Terminal 1’s parking garage to help capture the rays of Honolulu’s 270 days of sun a year. There also are plans to add more to Terminal 2’s parking garage in the coming years (and, ultimately, a whopping 21,000 across all of Hawaii’s airports). More than 98,000 light fixtures at Honolulu’s airport will be replaced with LEDs as well, the state’s DOT reports. Honolulu is far from the only airport trying to decrease its carbon footprint. George Airport (2,000 solar panels), between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in South Africa, and Cochin International Airport (46,000 panels) in India’s southwestern Kerala region are both run completely by solar energy. The South African airport hopes to be carbon neutral by 2030 and the Indian airport,-which serves nearly eight million passengers annually-hopes to reduce its carbon emissions by 330,000 tons over the next 25 years. Gatwick Airport in London is officially carbon neutral as of last summer, using 100 percent renewable energy, emphasizing electric car rentals, and building the world’s first airport waste management plant to turn cabin waste into energy on-site.
 
 
New TSA Scanners Could Allow Travelers to Keep Their Liquids and Laptops 
Open Jaw reports the TSA plans to have up to 40 units in place at 15 US airports by the end of this year, with plans for another 100 or so more by the end of the government’s fiscal year 2019. The Transportation Security Administration announced plans to expand testing of a new carry-on bag screening technology that it says could detect the kinds of materials that caused it to issue a ban on liquids and powders. The new checkpoint technology is expected to result in fewer bag checks. In the future, the agency said, “passengers may also be able to leave laptops and liquids in their carry-on bags.” The computed tomography scanners (CT) utilize 3-D technology similar to the kind doctors use to view and rotate images of the human body. “TSA is committed in getting the best technology to enhance security and improve the screening experience. Use of CT technology substantially improves TSA’s threat detection capability at the checkpoint,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “By leveraging strong partnerships with industry, we are able to deploy new technology quickly and see an immediate improvement in security effectiveness.” CT technology testing started in 2017 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Boston’s Logan International Airport, with John F. Kennedy International Airport receiving the third such machine. Abroad, London’s Heathrow International Airport is among several international airports testing the 3D technology.

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Travel News! The Planetarium Aboard the Viking Ship

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Big Sur Road Is Coming Back

LA Times reports Big Sur road coming back: Highway 1, closed for a year and a half because of massive slide, to reopen by July 20 (that’s today!). Travelers soon will be able to do something they haven’t in a year and a half: drive the 650-plus miles of California’s Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Caltrans announced Tuesday that full access to the blocked area south of Gorda would reopen by 11 a.m. July 20. The new stretch of road could open to traffic a few days sooner, depending on when work is completed, according to Caltrans.

The Mud Creek Slide, which rained debris in one of the state’s largest landslides, destroyed a quarter-mile section of roadway on May 20, 2017. The road will be open to traffic in both directions, meaning there’s still time to take an uninterrupted summer road trip along the Big Sur coast. Last year, heavy rains led to slides and debris flow that wiped out a bridge and closed several points on Highway 1, including Paul’s Slide, roughly at Post Mile 21. The road is now open with a single lane and a traffic signal to direct drivers, which may cause some slowing. Construction crews worked round the clock seven days a week to complete the $54-million emergency repairs. They built new roadway across the slide, fortifying with embankments and other support features such as berms, rocks, netting and other materials.

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Courtesy of Silversea

Luxury Line Silversea To Cruise The Northeast Passage 

Silver Explorer will become the most luxurious cruise ship to sail the Northeast Passage through the Arctic when it sets sail from Nome, Alaska, to Tromso, Norway, on August 10, 2019. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Silversea’s expedition arm, the line is offering a rare cruise ship itinerary to the far northern reaches of the globe. The 25-night cruise will take in destinations in Alaska, Russia and Norway, including Wrangel Island, a UNESCO site where polar bears and walruses live; the otherworldly Champ Island with its mysterious stone spheres; Murmansk, a Russian city that dates to the early 20th century; and coastal villages like Chukotka’s Uelen, where passengers can interact with and learn about the native Chukchi and Yupik people who live there. A highlight will be the day Silver Explorer spends sailing as far north as it can toward the edge of the polar ice cap. The expedition team will be in search of seals, walruses and polar bears hanging out on the ice floes. Its onboard expedition leaders will offer lectures and workshops, and lead Zodiac trips and other shore excursions to educate passengers on the itinerary’s remote destinations. The ship carries a mere 144 passengers, and pampers them, even in rugged climates, with suite accommodations, butler service and all-inclusive fares that cover all drinks, gratuities and unlimited Wi-Fi. Fares for this sailing start at $37,260 per person, based on double occupancy. Note that all suite categories but the lowest three are currently showing waitlist status.

EU Gets Tough With AirBnB On Pricing and Policy

the European Commission and EU consumer authorities are calling on Airbnb to be more transparent with its pricing. They say Airbnb’s current pricing and some of its terms do not comply with EU rules and it has given the homeshare giant until the end of August to fall into line. Consumers must easily understand what for and how much they are expected to pay for the services and have fair rules e.g. on cancellation of the accommodation by the owner. Airbnb has been told to show all fees and charges from the initial search or, where that’s not possible, clearly inform customers that additional fees might apply. It must also clearly identify if the accommodation offer is made by a private host or a professional, as consumer protection rules differ.

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American Airlines To Eliminate Plastic Straws From Cabins, Lounges

Reuters reports American Airlines on Tuesday said it plans to no longer offer plastic straws and stir sticks in its lounges and onboard its flights, amid a broader global push to abandon one-time use plastics. Starting this month, American said drinks in its airport lounges will no longer come with plastic utensils and will instead feature biodegradable straws and wooden stir sticks. The phase-out onboard its planes will begin in November, with plastic straws and stirrers to be replaced by environmentally friendly bamboo. The carrier will also transition to “eco-friendly” flatware in its lounges. American said that the move will eliminate more than 71,000 pounds (32,200 kg) of plastic each year. On Monday, Starbucks Corp, the world’s largest coffee chain, said it would no longer offer plastic straws at its 28,000 locations by 2020.

Disneyland Just Experienced The Hottest Day Ever At A Disney Park 

Travel + Leisure reports Disneyland just had its hottest day ever. While southern California experienced a heat wave temperatures in Anaheim (home of Disneyland) soared to 113°F on July 6. It is not only the hottest temperature on record since the park opened in 1955, it is the hottest temperature recorded at any of the Disney parks around the world (including Orlando, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong), according to Theme Park Insider. Because of the oppressive heat, park officials closed all outdoor rides, including Big Thunder and Mountain Railroad – several food vendors also shut down because of the heat. Those who went to the park on that day said that lines for rides were short, as the park was practically empty. Disney first aid staff were on call to help guests experiencing dehydration. “There was one medic run right after the other,” one park cast member said. Wait times for many popular attractions dropped to the point where it was basically possible to walk right on.

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This High-Tech Planetarium Is On A New VIKING Cruise Ship

The Explorers’ Dome is located on the second level of the Viking Orion’s Explorers’ Lounge. The newest Viking Ocean Cruise ship, made its debut in Italy on June 14, revealing a unique high-tech feature: a planetarium at sea. The ship is named after the constellation Orion (the hunter) and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the first crewed capsule designed to carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. The ship’s name also honors retired NASA astronaut Anna Fisher, who is the “godmother” of Viking Orion and worked on the Orion spacecraft before retiring in May 2017.

The planetarium, called the Explorers’ Dome, features shows about space and exploration, including two 3D films: “Journey to Space” and “Under the Arctic Sky.” “The Explorers’ Dome onboard Viking Orion is currently the highest-definition 7K planetarium in the world,” Ralph de Klijn, Viking’s executive director of ocean operations, told Space.com. “The Explorers’ Dome is a versatile space that can operate as a high-tech planetarium, as well as show films and other programming in 2D or 3D.” Viking Orion is only the second cruise ship in the world to have a planetarium; the other is the Queen Mary 2.

Although Viking Orion is not the first cruise ship to offer a planetarium, the company says this one is the most advanced, with:

– Digistar 6 display system, five projectors and studio speakers.

– Viking resident astronomer. Howard Parkin, a Royal Astronomical Society fellow and founding member of the Isle of Man Astronomical Society

– lectures on the wonders of the cosmos

– offer guided tours of the night sky during stargazing sessions using Viking’s portable telescope.

While other Viking ships have resident historians, Orion is the only one with a resident astronomer and historian. Parkin will continue to offer lectures through the ship’s 2018 maiden season, de Klijn said.

Read more on Space.com: https://www.space.com/41145-space-cruise-vacation-viking-orion-reflections.html

Club Med Cancún Yucatán Introduces Expanded Family Area 

Club Med Cancún Yucatán has doubled the size of its Aguamarina family area, adding 60 rooms and a new pool. The Aguamarina family area now offers an additional 30 Club Rooms and 30 Deluxe Rooms. Both of the two-bedroom accommodation options provide oceanfront views. This expansion doubles the Aguamarina area’s capacity to 120 families. Club Med Cancún Yucatán also introduced a new Aguamarina reception area and concierge service. The resort also added a new family pool, offering water games, lounge areas and outdoor activities. After a long day in the water, guests can dine at the pool area’s new family bar La Marina. Here kids can visit the restaurant’s kids’ corner and the whole family can order special treats that change from day to day. Guests of the Aguamarina area receive all the benefits featured in a stay at Club Med Cancún Yucatán. This includes dining at the resort’s three restaurants, water and land sports such as snorkeling and flying trapeze, kids’ and teens’ clubs and nightly entertainment. The additions to the Aguamarina area follow a full renovation the resort completed at the end of 2017. The work included improvements to all the resort’s rooms, its meetings and events spaces and the 5-Trident Jade area. The property also introduced new wellness opportunities as well as new and improved dining options.

More glimpses of the family area here: https://www.clubmed.us/r/Cancun-Yucatan/y

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Paris Métro Ditches Paper Tickets, Moves to London-Like System 

Cntraveler reports Paris’s more-than-a-century-old, white paper Métro tickets are on their way out. Starting in 2019, entry to Paris’s efficient public transport system, including buses and express RER trains, will be done through contactless Navigo cards. The city’s transport agency, Ile-de-France Mobilités, announced Wednesday that it would be rolling out two different travel cards, in addition to the unlimited Navigo card for residents already available, over the next year for all sorts of travelers and commuters. If you’re visiting the city for a short time, you’ll need the Navigo Easy pass, available starting in April 2019. Almost identical to London’s Oyster card, the Easy pass costs €2 ($2.34) to buy. Then, you’ll load up the card with T+ rides, what the paper tickets represent now, which will cost the same in 2019 as they do today: €1.90 ($2.22) per ride or €14.90 ($17.39) for a pack of 10 rides. That’s a more than 20% discount, and will cover one-way Métro rides, RER trains in Zone 1 (central Paris), and bus trips. Much like the Oyster card in London, you can top the card up as needed at all transit stations so be sure not to throw yours away. There will be no time limit on them and the card is not nominative, meaning it can be given to a friend. You can also load Orlybus (to Paris Orly Airport) or Roissybus (to Charles de Gaulle Airport) tickets on the Easy pass as well.

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Travel News: Snakes on a Plane?

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TSA Finds Python Hidden In Hard Drive

ABC News reports airport security agents stopped a woman from boarding a plane with a python wrapped in a nylon stocking concealed in a computer hard drive Sunday. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said its agents stopped a real-life version of “Snakes on a Plane” from happening after an agent noticed the ball python. “A traveler on her way to the Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) in Barbados attempted to smuggle the snakelet inside of an external hard drive packed in her checked bag. If you think airplane seats can feel constricting, imagine how this little guy felt! Talk about bad memories!” the TSA continued. “While the python itself posed no danger to anyone on the aircraft, an organic item concealed inside electronics raises security concerns, which is why our officers took a closer look. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was notified. They responded and took possession of the snake and cited the traveler. Both the traveler and the snake missed their flight,” the TSA added. “Conversationally, this python had not gone full monty. It was wearing a nylon stocking.”

If You Owe The IRS It Could Cost You Your Passport

EtN reports if you have a seriously delinquent tax debt, the IRS can certify that debt to the State Department for action, and that department generally will not issue a US passport to a potential traveler after receiving certification from the IRS. This is all in plain print at the IRS website: “Upon receiving certification, the State Department shall deny your passport application and/or may revoke your current passport. If your passport application is denied or your passport revoked, and you are overseas, the State Department may issue you a limited validity passport good only for direct return to the United States. Seriously delinquent tax debt is an individual’s unpaid, legally enforceable federal tax debt totaling more than $51,000 (including interest and penalties) for which a Notice of federal tax lien has been filed and all administrative remedies under IRC § 6320 have lapsed or been exhausted, or seriously delinquent tax debt is limited to liabilities incurred under Title 26 of the United States Code and does not include debts collected by the IRS such as the FBAR Penalty and Child Support.

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Anguilla Retains Best Caribbean Island Ranking

Travel + Leisure reports the Anguilla Tourist Board (ATB) is pleased to announce that for an unprecedented second year in a row, Anguilla has been ranked #1 island in the Caribbean, Bermuda and Bahamas in the 2018 Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards, honoring the top travel destinations and companies around the globe as rated by its readers. Frangipani Beach Resort has been ranked #1 in the Top 25 Caribbean Resort Hotels category and #3 in the Top Hotels Overall category. The Four Seasons Resort & Private Residences Anguilla has been ranked #12 in the Top Caribbean Resort Hotels category; Zemi Beach House was ranked #15; and Malliouhana, An Auberge Resort was ranked #18 in the Top Caribbean Resort Hotels category. The World’s Best Awards appear in the August 2018 issue of Travel + Leisure, on sale July 27, and online: travelandleisure.com/worlds-best.

Singapore Airlines To Launch Non-Stop Flights From LAX To Singapore

By Christmastime, Singapore Airlines will be flying ten times a week between LAX and Singapore. If you don’t mind sitting on a plane for 17 and a half hours, getting from the West Coast to Singapore will be a whole lot easier and faster, thanks to the elimination of a layover in Seoul. Starting November 2, Singapore Airlines will bring back its nonstop route from Los Angeles International to Singapore Changi. The airline will will fly the route three times a week (Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) until November 9; service will go daily after that. From December 7, three more flights a week will be added for ten total non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Singapore per week. The fall kickoff date is notable for many reasons: It’s two weeks after Singapore restarts its longest-flight-in-the-world Newark-Singapore route (clocking in at nearly 19 hours), and just a week after Star Alliance member United ends its LAX-Singapore route. 
 

Airlines Load Factor Hits All-Time High

Forbes reports that if you think that airline flights are much more crowded than they used to be, you’re not wrong. The passenger load factor of commercial airlines has risen significantly over the past decade. In 2005, airlines had an average load factor of 75.2%, so on average, just three out of every four seats were sold. The recession of 2007-2010 stopped load factor growth. But by 2018, the average airline load factor hit 81.7% worldwide. In the US load factor has increased on domestic flights from 67.88% in 2002 to 86.08% in 2018, while the number of domestic flights has stayed almost constant, from 8,085,083 in 2002 to 8,176,610 in 2017. The US airline industry has clearly gotten better in filling seats as revenue passenger miles rose from 471,652,206 in 2002 to 684,221,393 in 2017. The days of having a whole row to stretch out in coach, or even an empty middle seat separating you from your neighbor, increasingly seem like a distant memory. The airlines are busy shrinking seats and cramming in additional rows into smaller, more fuel-efficient jets.

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Amtrak Service Declines As It Becomes An Airline On Rails

Travellers United reports Amtrak service is becoming more airline-like with a former airline executive in charge, former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson. His Amtrak service changes bring the railroad closer to service practices in the airline industry. Some of the changes: – Hot dining car meals prepared on-board, included in the fare for first-class sleeping car passengers, are being replaced with cold pre-prepared meals served in-room on the Chicago-New York and Chicago-Washington routes starting June 1.

– Amtrak no longer offers discounts to veterans, students and AAA members, and the minimum age of eligibility for the senior discount (which is now 10% rather than 15% was raised to 65 from 62.

– The railroad’s cancellation policy is now more airline-like. There is now a 25% penalty for most reservations canceled more than 24 hours after booking, even if the value is credited to the passenger as an eVoucher (redeemable for future ticket purchases) rather than as a cash refund. Luckily, Amtrak still does not charge change fees.

– First Class amenities like a lounge car for sleeping car passengers have been removed from several routes, and two routes have lost Business Class seating.

– A number of stations have lost their Amtrak Customer Service Representative(s), employees who do everything from selling tickets to handling baggage and assisting passengers with special needs.

– Amtrak has stopped operating charter and special trains in partnership with rail museums and preservation nonprofits, tour groups, sports teams and others, jettisoning a source of revenue and public goodwill in the name of operational convenience.

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Ethiopia Launches New E-Visa Services

Ethiopia, a treasure trove of history and culture, has become easier to get to with an all in one new e-visa service launched by the Ethiopian Immigration and Nationality Affairs Main Department in collaboration with Ethiopian Airlines. The new service brings the travelers closer to authentic travel experiences and enables them to travel to Ethiopia. All the visitors have to do is process their visa online on a single webpage where they apply, pay and secure their entry visa online. Give it a try and you will get authorized via email to secure your passport stamped with visa upon arrival at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Call Willamette Intl Travel to discuss a unique holiday in Ethiopia – you’ll be sure to love this beautiful country and the warm-hearted hospitality of its people.  

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WIT Agent Nancy on Maui

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Last month, WIT Agent Nancy Fowler returned from a trip to Maui with her daughter, Sam. Nancy is one of the experts in the office on all things Hawaii.

She always has some recommendations at her fingertips, especially for O’ahu, Maui, and Kaua’i.

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Note: Kilauea’s Eruption on the Big Island hasn’t affected conditions on other islands. For the latest updates, check out USGS.gov.

Nancy’s Insider Tips for a Great Vacation on Maui

Tokyo Tei tempura

Tokyo Tei Restaurant in Wailuku. Open since 1935, Tokyo Tei offers delicious, authentic, and reasonably priced awesome Japanese food. This is a no-frills, nicely hidden, family-owned and -operated restaurant. As it’s minutes from Maui airport, it’s a great place for lunch or dinner before an overnight flight home (or anytime really!).

Beach Buddy Freya

Maui Humane Society Beach Buddy Volunteer Program. Volunteer to play with a pup in the sun every Wednesday and Friday. Due to the popularity of this program, it books out months in advance! Get your spot before your flight.

PacWhaleFoundation snorkel Lanai

Pacific Whale Foundation Cruises. Frolic with the whales and dolphins in their natural habitant. Enjoy a sunset dinner or cocktail cruise, or snorkel out to Molokini, Lana’i and Honolua Bay. As only 2 boat companies have permission to land on Lana’i, and this isn’t one of them, the cruise anchors off the Marina and guests swim close to the harbor.

More posts on Maui

Our Favorite Instagrammers from Hawaii

Dolphin Swims and Helicopters

Conscientious Traveler: Napili Kai Beach Foundation

Hotel Profile: Turtle Bay

Kaimuki: O’ahu’s Favorite Eclectic Neighborhood

Day on Maui: Fun in the Sun

Have only one more day on Maui? Nancy’s itinerary for a leisurely and fun day prior to an evening flight home: 

11am / checked out of our condo in Kaanapali and drove to Kahului

1130-1p / Swap Meet at the University of Maui.  (every Saturday; 50 cents per person admission, and free parking

1p-230p / drive to Twin Falls via the Hana Hwy and walk 45 minutes ~ along the river (upper path closed due to flooding)

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230p-430p / leisurely return via Paia and Makawao. with stops for tea and shopping in each town

445p / in the parking lot waiting for 5pm to come so we could have dinner @ Tokyo Tei

600p / drove the “back” road to Alamo to return our car (a way more “colorful” approach to the airport than via town!)

615p / at the airport, in time for 8:45pm departure flight.

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Gavi visits Alaska with Lindblad Expeditions

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A few weeks ago, WIT Agent Gavi joined Lindblad Expeditions on a trip to Southeast Alaska. Read on for her review of the ship and the ports of call. 

For two golden hours on a mid-May evening, I chased the Canadian sunset northward. I left behind clouds spread beneath me like fractured glass and entered Southeast Alaska: a land of glowing snow-dusted ridges, jagged peaks, frozen lakes, ice fields, fjords and mist. I spent the next week with Lindblad Expeditions, exploring Southeast Alaska’s fjords and glaciers from the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird.

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SITKA

The town of Sitka nestles into Baranof Island’s eastern edge. It’s home to a small main street, which contains a well-stocked outdoor store (filled with any high-end brands you could ever want and an entire wall of rubber boots), an organic creperie, a coffee shop, and a few souvenir galleries (save your shopping for Juneau, although one of the shops does have a full mammoth skull on display, tusks and all). Two places in the town warrant time set aside for a visit:

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  • The raptor center happens to be one of the best wildlife rehabilitation centers I’ve ever seen. They have a symbiotic relationship with tourism in the town: it thrives because it’s able to charge admission to cover costs of an incredible operation. Flight training rooms have creeks to cover noise and one-way windows. Birds unable to fly are kept in expansive open-topped enclosures. The center has educational and hospital facilities, and permanent homes are found for all animals unable to be released.
  • Totem Park: This beautiful national historic park lies 10-15 minutes’ walk from the Sitka town center. The trails in this forested area are lined with totem poles that have been relocated from throughout Southeast Alaska for the sake of cultural preservation and education.

 

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THE CRUISE

The Boat: This boat is a smaller, expedition-style ship, which means we were able to go a lot of places many larger cruise ships were simply unable to navigate. It had a compact set-up, with several different communal areas that made it easy to get to know fellow passengers.

The lounge is cozy: it has lots of smaller tables with rotating armchairs, as well as padded benches around the edges. One large screen and several other screens set up throughout, so you can see presentations no matter where you’re sitting. There is a comprehensive library with literature relevant to the cruise area: natural history, cultural history, guidebooks and other reference materials. There was also a basket of novels (take one/leave one style).

The dining room was classy and practical. No assigned seating, so mingling and getting to know people was easy. Mix of round and rectangular tables.

There were wrap-around outside observation areas on the main deck as well as in front of the bridge, allowing a vantage point for anyone who wanted a view.

An area on the back of the third deck had a sun/rain cover and fitness equipment: three fitness machines, weights, foam rollers, yoga mats and some other things.

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The Rooms: Comfiest. Beds. Ever. Cabins could be termed either “small” or “cozy,” depending how you look at it, but this is to be expected on a yacht-style expedition ship. Bathrooms are “wet” style, where the shower and toilet are right next to each other (a curtain can be drawn to keep the toilet and paper dry). Plenty of storage beneath the bed, and there is also a cabinet with several hangers and a shelf. Amenities include bath scrubby, conditioner and lip balm, your own steel water bottle to take home, and there are shampoo and soap dispensers in the shower. A small clothesline is provided that reaches across the bathroom.

Onboard Activities: Largely educational, focused on photography and local history (both natural and cultural), and conservation. Each Lindblad expedition has a Certified Photo Instructor on board (some select programs also have a National Geographic photographer). The photo instructor on our expedition had extensive experience all over the world, and is currently involved in the continuation of time-lapse projects used to document glaciers’ retreat (used in the 2014 documentary Chasing Ice).

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During our trip, the instructor let a fantastic intro to photography session on the first day, followed by breakout sessions determined by camera style and experience. There were also evening lectures presented by onboard naturalists: some of the programs on this voyage included: marine mammal behavior and current research, history of fur trading in the region, formation of the area (including past, current and future hydrogeology), and Native American totem poles of the Pacific Coast. These programs reflected a set of naturalists with diverse strengths, and their passion and knowledge easily showed through their work.

There was great demo gear available on the boat including binoculars, camera bodies and lenses.

Morning yoga and stretching sessions on the back deck for those so inclined, and there was a wellness specialist on board who was available to book massages. The boat had an “open bridge” policy, as long as we weren’t navigating something tricky or pulling into/out of harbor: this was an amazing opportunity to look over maps and monitors and ask questions about navigation. It also provided a way to watch our surroundings from one of the best seats in the house, in a nice warm room shielded from any weather outside.

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Excursions: In general, two per day: one in the morning and one in the evening. We had a variety of choices for each excursion, catered toward different physical levels. Some examples include:

  • Short, medium or long hikes
  • Stand up paddleboarding, Kayaking or Zodiac tours
  • Hiking, Kayaking or Zodiak tours
  • Hiking, cultural visit with river float, town time or flightseeing (port day in Haines)

It is important to remember that, due to nature of the location, schedule and location of excursions on an expedition-style cruise is fluid. Excursions may be adjusted based on any of the following: wilderness restrictions (only a certain number of people allowed on land at a time), weather, wildlife (boats are not allowed in areas where seals are pupping), accessibility (areas with established trails will allow longer hikes than coves with no established trail), and ability of the “slowest” person in a group.

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The food: was phenomenal, especially from the perspective of a girl who usually looks to the “apply heat and consume” philosophy. Responsibly sourced. Breakfast and lunch usually consisted of healthy buffets with a wide variety, and dinner was sit-down with a choice of three protein options which changed daily. Portions were small compared to usual classic American meals, but no one ever left feeling hungry. Light snacks were available throughout the day: cookies, trail mix, afternoon hors d’oeuvres. Dietary needs were all catered to beautifully.

The drinks: Free coffee, tea, hot chocolate, chai latte mix, and anything you can make with a cappuccino machine, any time of day or night. Alcohol was not included: there is an honor tally sheet for beers from the fridge, and a bar tab kept on your on-board account. However, wine was comped on the first and last nights, and beer was comped at the first lunch. Alcohol was included free of charge on three other occasions:

  • During our port day in Haines, we were given credit for drinks at one brewery and one distillery.
  • We returned from a cold zodiac tour and the bartender was waiting at the sign-in board with a vat of apple cider and your choice of Captain Morgan or… some other liquor.
  • Half way through the zodiac tour to the glacier, another zodiac full of crew dressed as Vikings “raided” our boat and distributed hot chocolate with a choice between three alcohols, and whip.

The vibe, overall: relaxed and casual.

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Some Things to Note: 

  • If you have kids: your best Lindblad option will be an Alaska or Galapagos program, which will have a dedicated “Global Explorers” kid-specific program and naturalist on board. On trips without a “Global Explorers” program, activities are not generally geared toward the younger generation (ex: evening lectures rather than entertainment with other companies). If a child is uninterested in an activity and wishes to stay behind, a parental unit will need to accompany the child and be responsible for them.
  • These are not ADA accessible cruises.
  • Remember to pack:
    • A waterproof cover for your day pack.
    • Three pairs of shoes:
      • sturdy, knee-high rubber boots (required),
      • tennis shoes, and
      • “camp shoes” for on the boat. (if your tennis get wet, you’ll be wearing your rubber boots everywhere on board, even when you want to relax).
    • A long string to use as an additional clothesline in your cabin. There is no electric dryer on board, and this will be a lifesaver after rainy expeditions.
    • Lots of warm layers (including gloves, hats, scarf): while Southeast Alaska has some absolutely stunning days, any time of year can also have cold, windy and rainy days. Zodiac tours can be a long activity, exposed with no movement, so you can get cold fast without the right clothing.

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JUNEAU

Alaska’s state capital has a few things worth doing:

On a clear day, take the tram up Mt. Roberts: this has a beautiful view down the channel and some trails at the top. Admission is covered by Lindblad.

While most “galleries” in town are maintained by cruise companies, there are two or three worth visiting:

  • Mt. Juneau Trading Post: Family trading post maintained for generations by a Tlingit family. Old and new art from all over the Northwest coast, ranging from $5 to the sky. If you love art, you can get lost in here for hours.
  • Trickster: Northwest Coast art designed and applied to modern purposes: skateboards, home décor, jewelry, apparel, etc.

Some other Juneau activities: The Mendenhall Ice Caves are a full-day excursion with a local company, accessible only by first kayaking and then climbing over ice. There is also flightseeing available in Juneau.

It’s worth an extra half-day in Juneau to see the galleries and Mt. Roberts tram (arriving the night before you embark, or catching a later flight the day you disembark). For any further activities, you will need to allow an additional day in the city.

 

 

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Our Favorite Instagrammers from Hawaii

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We know a lot of our clients are concerned about traveling to the Hawaiian Islands right now, but it’s business for usual in most tourist locations – Waikiki, North Shore, Maui, Kaua’i, Kailua-Kona. To prove it to you, we’ve amassed a few of our favorite Instagrammers from Hawaii. 

1. @the96815

For all things Waikiki, check out Nova’s channel @the96815, who manages to balance the glitzy, touristy side of Hawaii’s favorite beach with hidden hole-in-the-walls.

2. @mtea

If mouth-watering, ono-kine food is more the reason you travel, look no further for inspiration than Megan Tomino. Megan of @mtea is all about curating succulent foodgasms on the table.

3. @ge_keoni

Keoni introduces fans to the islands with a descriptive photo paired with a story or legend that brings the landscape to life.

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#🌴

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4. @misterver

Forget the iconic sunset photo or snapshot of O’ahu’s misty mountains — @misterver takes a dive into local culture and street smarts.

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Friday moves.

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5. @pineappleice

Fashionistas are sure to flock to Lindsey Higa’s account, rich in cool tropical fashion, swimsuits, jumpsuits, with a dash of flowers and flavor.

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East side road trips ☁️ snap by @walktheeearth

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6. @chadkoga

Need a bit more water adventures for inspiration? Chad Koga’s account springs to life with dolphins, schools of fish, whales, turtles, rays and other coastal treasures.

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Mauka Makai #ahonuperspective

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7. @tomkualii

Alright, we get it – you want to see some lava! Tom Kualii is drawn to Pele, so we’re sure he gets ample opportunity these days for some epic shots. For updates on the Kilauea lava flow on the Big Island, click here. 

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Travel News This Week: Kilauea Updates

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Passengers Stuck In Shrunken Lavatories On American Airlines

The London Times reports executives face suggestions that they have gone too far in their attempt to keep hold of customers. Some passengers, in fact, were said to be struggling to extricate themselves from the loos. Flight attendants complained that the sinks were so small they could wash only one hand at a time. In the fierce fight to offer cheap flights to more of the traveling public, American Airlines has trimmed the space between rows and shrunk its lavatory cubicles to pack in more seats. Complaints that the cubicles were trapping unsuspecting travelers were first raised by Zach Honig, an editor for the website The Points Guy, who crammed into one of the airline’s new Boeing 737 MAX planes for a flight from New York to Miami.

Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano: What travelers to the Big Island need to know

  1. Yes, it’s still safe and there are many things to do, from friendly manta rays to snorkeling in Kailua-Kona… Read the full list at Hawaii Magazine.

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Honolulu’s USS Arizona Memorial is closed indefinitely 

Built in 1962 to honor the 1,177 sailors and marines who died aboard the USS Arizona during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Memorial has closed until further notice. Concerns began when a transportation operator reported cracks on the exterior. The Memorial hosts 4-5,000 visitors daily. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center remains open for business, where the guests can watch the documentary film and take a harbor tour of Battleship Row near the USS Arizona Memorial. Bookstores, gift shops, Pearl Harbor museums, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pacific Aviation Museum are still open. 

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NOAA’s Predictions For 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season

What will the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season bring? That’s the question everyone’s asking after last year saw 17 named storms. Ten of those storms became hurricanes, including six major hurricanes, making 2017 the seventh-most active season since 1851, based on the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a near- or above-normal Atlantic hurricane season for 2018. It has determined a 70% likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of at least 35 mph) of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5, with winds of 111 mph or higher). Last year, the NOAA predicted an above-normal season with a likelihood of up to 17 named storms. “With the advances made in hardware and computing over the course of the last year, the ability of NOAA scientists to both predict the path of storms and warn Americans who may find themselves in harm’s way is unprecedented,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said according to the NOAA’s prediction. “The devastating hurricane season of 2017 demonstrated the necessity for prompt and accurate hurricane forecasts.”

Emerald Waterways To Offer Nile River Cruise Sailings In 2019 and 2020

Emerald Waterways will begin Nile River cruises in February 2019, offering two different itineraries. The line has two cruise tour options planned, with seven sailings in 2019 and eight in 2020. The 10-night Egypt and Nile cruise tour spends five nights on MS Hamees, a chartered 142-passenger ship owned by Movenpick, as well as four nights in Cairo. The 15-night Egypt and Nile River cruise tour adds time in Jordan, with visits to Amman, Petra and the Dead Sea. The tours encompass the major sights of Egypt, including the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor’s Valley of the Kings and temples on the west bank, Abu Simbel and Aswan. The ship, which has been newly refurbished, has a main restaurant with international and local options at meals, as well as a sun deck with a swimming pool. The ship also has its own private dock in Luxor. After many years of dormancy, Nile River sailings have been making a comeback. Viking River Cruises has invested in the region with a new ship, Viking Ra, debuting this year. Other river lines that offer cruise tours on the Nile include Uniworld, Vantage and Emerald Waterways’ sister company Scenic. Meanwhile, Emerald Waterways continues to expand. The line debuted in 2014 and quickly grew to seven ships in Europe and one ship on the Mekong. Emerald Waterways recently announced that it will be offering yacht-style cruises on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast in 2019 on the 36-passenger Adriatic Princess II.

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