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Travel News: Chinese Gov’t Requiring Strict Photos for China Visa

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Chinese Gov’t Requires Strict Photo Regulations for China Visa

Lately the Chinese government has gotten very particular on their acceptance of photos on the China visa application. Applicants must adhere to the visa requirements to the letter or risk rejections. Please double check with your passport photo photographer that they are up-to-date with recent regulations. Full details on requirements in the attached PDF here. 

Biggest-Ever Airplane Poised For Test Flights Into Orbit

The world’s largest airplane, designed to reshape space travel by launching rockets mid-air into orbit from 30,000 ft, rolled out of its hangar for the first time last Wednesday at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The groundbreaking plane, which looks like two aircraft joined together, is the brainchild of billionaire Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen and his private spaceflight company Stratolaunch. Allen founded the company in 2011 with the goal of making access to low-Earth orbit more “convenient, reliable and routine.” It has the biggest wingspan of any aircraft ever built, coming in 385 ft, longer than an NFL field which is 360 ft in length. The aircraft is 238 ft from nose to tail and stands 50 ft high on its 28 wheels. This is the first time the public has got a look at the spaceplane and now work must begin on testing before its predicted maiden voyage in 2019.

Montreal Ferris Wheel Set For July Opening

Montreal’s new La Grande Roue Ferris wheel will start operating in the Old Port in mid-July. The ride will offer panoramic 60-metre-high views of the river, Old Montreal, downtown and the mountain. The Ferris wheel will operate year-round from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., giving visitors a chance to enjoy a day or evening view from an air-conditioned cabin (heated in winter). There will also be a bar, bistro and coffee shop on site

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Record Number Of Climbers On Mount Everest

Safety concerns are on high alert this year as Mount Qomolangma, more commonly known as Mount Everest, is expected to see its highest number of climbers this year. The mountain is located on the border between Nepal and China and in order to climb it, interested climbers need to apply for a permit from either the Nepalese or Chinese government depending on which side the ascent begins. Unlike previous years, the world’s highest peak which sits at 8,848 meters above sea level, is estimated to receive more than 1000 people this year during the peak season, which is the highest number of climbers ever. The cause of the increasing number of climbers is varied but a lot of it has to do with the increasing popularity of the climb ever since it was opened to the public over 60 years ago. This year alone, the Nepalese government has granted 371 permits, the most it’s ever issued in a single year. A key factor which has caused the growth of the number of climbers may be the portrayal of Mount Everest in popular media. Experienced climbers have noted that the climb is promoted as a fashionable activity rather than what it truly is; a challenging extreme sport which should only be limited to climbers who have had experiences with similar conditions such as the 5,895 meters tall Mount Kilimanjaro. In order to handle the increase of applications, the Nepalese government has imposed more stringent conditions such as instigating a ban on climbers who are younger than 18 or older than 75.

Royal Caribbean Reinstates Corkage Fee for Wine Brought Onboard

Cruise Critic reports Royal Caribbean has reinstated its corkage fee for wine brought onboard by passengers. The $15 per bottle fee will be charged for the opening of any bottle brought onboard by passengers on embarkation day. Wine purchased from the onboard menus or through the line’s Gifts and Gear program and consumed in a public space does not bear an extra charge. Passengers are permitted to bring onto their cruise ship, on embarkation day only, two bottles of wine or Champagne per cabin, up to 750 ml each for consumption during the cruise. Any bottles brought onboard during the length of the sailing will be stored for the duration of the cruise and returned to passengers the night before disembarkation. Royal Caribbean declined to comment on why the line brought back the fee, which it had removed back in 2014.

President Trump To Reverse Cuba Policy

There are many reports circulating that the President plans to reverse the previous administration’s Cuba policy. Business Travel News reports US cruise operators and airlines could lose $712 million in annual revenues if restrictions are reinstated. President Trump is poised to void the re-normalization of US relations with Cuba, according to multiple congressional and advocacy organization sources with direct knowledge of the administration’s intentions reported by numerous news media yesterday. Possible changes Pres. Trump is considering include “reconfirming the licensing structure that would rescind the system that has allowed for easier travel to the country,” many news media outlets report, as well as new regulations for businesses interested in working in the Cuban market; reinstating caps or outright banning imports from the country; and redefining the what it means to be a part of the Cuban government or military, which could affect contracts with the Cuban government. The sources say some of the changes could take effect this month. US businesses have established 26 agreements with the Cuban government from 2015 to 2017, according to ABC News, including airlines and cruise lines as well as telecommunications companies and Google, which hoped to expand internet access in Cuba. The number of US citizens visiting Cuba increased 74% from 2015 to 2016, according to the Cuban Ministry. Trump’s administration is reviewing US policy toward the country’s former Cold War foe.

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Arctic Tourism Groups Forge Guidelines For Community Visits

Five Arctic tourism organizations have joined forces to develop guidelines for tourists visiting Arctic communities. In addition to general advice on how to behave, the organizations presented a template that helps communities to create their own tailored guidelines. The guidelines, which provide travelers with useful dos and don’ts when visiting Arctic communities, were developed with the input of local stakeholders. Included are pointers on everything from cultural considerations to recommendations on what kind of souvenirs to buy. For example, visitors are encouraged to talk to, and not about, the people they meet and to ask before taking photographs of people (‘a hesitation means “no”‘). ‘Think of yourself as an ambassador for your country and your culture, as the locals are for theirs. Politeness and good manners are always appreciated,’ one guideline states. Visitors are advised to respect privacy and private property, and places of religious or cultural significance. Children shouldn’t be photographed or given gifts without their superiors’ permission. Religious or cultural ceremonies shouldn’t be disturbed or photographed without permission. People should avoid walking on graves. The groups that teamed on the guidelines are the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), Visit Greenland, Cruise Iceland, Visit Svalbard and the Northern Norway Tourist Board.

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Travel News: Virgin America to be retired in 2019

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Mount Etna Eruptions

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued a travel alert warning travelers that Italy’s Mount Etna has been erupting with increasing frequency. The warning comes after tourists suffered minor injuries at the active volcano in Sicily. A BBC camera crew on the mountain filmed a big explosion which pelted a group with boiling rocks and steam. About eight people were injured and some had to be evacuated by mountain rescue teams after lava flow mixed with steam triggered the blast. According to BBC science reporter Rebecca Morelle, a volcanologist at the scene said it was the most dangerous incident he had seen in his 30-year-career. Travelers are advised to visit the Italian Civil Protection website for more information. 

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Virgin America to be retired in 2019

Alaska Airlines Group has announced that the Virgin America brand will be retired in 2019. “While the Virgin America name is beloved to many,” Alaska VP of Marketing Sangita Woerner said. “We concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name – for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares.” Last December, Alaska Airlines completed the $2.6 billion acquisition of Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines is now the nation’s fifth largest – behind American, Delta, United, and Southwest. According to Alaska, it plans to overhaul its operation to give passengers a more “Virgin-esque” experience that VA is currently admired for: a new satellite-based wifi system, free inflight movies, redesigned interiors with mood lighting, more stylish crew uniforms, upgraded airport lounges, more premium seating, and more complimentary upgrades.

NCL Raising Cost Of Gratuities

Norwegian Cruise Line is raising gratuities on April 1st from $13.50 per person, per day, to $13.99, on all ships except the Norwegian Sky. Daily gratuities for standard cabins on the Norwegian Sky will increase to $18.99 (an increase over 40%). NCL will increase daily gratuities for suites from $15.50 to $16.99 on all of its ships except for the Sky where it will charge $21.99. 

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Tahiti Embarks on 2020 Plan, New Cruise Terminal

Tahiti Tourism is embarking on an $8 million international cruise terminal project due for completion in 2020. The terminal will be located in the center of Papeete and will accommodate up to three ships simultaneously and 2,000 turnaround passengers. The North Pier will measure 300 meters in length; the South Pier 350 meters.

There are no cabotage rules governing Tahiti so cruise ships can sail a more varied itinerary among Tahiti’s 118 islands. Planned amenities include an aerial walk, luggage room, check-in counters, waiting room, duty free, snack bar/café and reservations facilities. Concurrently, Papeete is planning a $12 million upgrade of its airport which is 3 km from the cruise port. Upon completion of the upgrade the airport will be able to accommodate three departures (up to 950 passengers) at the same time.  

Panama Canal to Introduce New Scheduling System

Ships in the Panama CanalQuintiq said that its software has been selected by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to plan, schedule and optimize all vessels transit operations through the Canal “to reduce costs, improve safety and increase overall efficiency and reliability. This system will help carry that legacy forward, allowing us to tap the potential of technology to provide better solutions for our customers as we increasingly manage more transits and adapt to shifts in global trade.” Quintig is a Dassault Systèmes brand. The Quintiq solution will change how the Panama Canal plans and schedules transit operations. For the first time, the Canal will be able to execute a completely integrated operating plan for all of its critical resources, including tugboats, pilots and line handlers. The new solution will impact shippers looking to transit the waterway by shortening vessel waiting times, increasing the number of potentially available vessel slots each day and improving the overall reliability of the route. Quintiq will be fully integrated into Canal operations over the course of the next two years. 

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World’s First Ship Tunnel To Be Built In Norway

Norway has approved the financing of an ambitious project to build the world’s first full-size tunnel for ships. The tunnel will be 45 meters high, 36 meters wide and 1.7 kilometers long, and be constructed through the Stad peninsula on the west coast of Norway. The tunnel will be designed to accommodate 16,000-tonne cargo and passenger ships with a draft up to 12 meters. The tunnel will provide a safe journey around Stad, laying the foundation for the region’s industrial development and establishment as a world-class tourist destination. The tunnel will allow up to 120 vessels to travel under a mountain rather than navigate the dangerous waters of the Stadhavet Sea, which experiences about 100 storm days annually. At least 33 people have lost their lives in the area since the end of the Second World War, according to reports. The project is expected to take a decade to complete. 

 Canada Looks At Joining US And Britain On Electronics Ban For Flights 

The Globe and Mail reports Transport Minister Marc Garneau says Canada is evaluating intelligence passed on by the United States to determine if it should require passengers traveling from some Middle East countries to pack all large electronic devices other than mobile cellphones in their checked baggage. US Homeland Secretary John Kelly spoke by telephone Tuesday with Mr. Garneau to explain why the Trump administration has ruled that only cellphones and smartphones will be allowed in the passenger cabin of flights into the United States from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries. Mr. Garneau would not say what type of security threat the Americans are concerned about, but it was reported by The New York Times that intelligence showed Islamic State is developing a bomb hidden in portable electronics. 

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The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

Islands Series: Svalbard

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Welcome to our Islands Series! This week we’ve been taking a closer look at islands in which to beat the summer heat. Check out our posts on the Orkneys, Faroes, and a bit further back, the Shetlands. Today it’s up, the north of the norths — Svalbard! 

There are few islands to visit cooler than Svalbard!

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The Svalbard archipelago is a group of islands that lie directly north of Norway. The name, “cold edge,” gives a hint to the climate of the region–in July averages are around 43°F, and in January they drop down to 4°F. As such, Svalbard enjoys peak tourist season during the summertime, from June to August. As the islands lie in the Arctic Circle, this is also the time of the midnight sun, when the sun never fully sets.

Only the main island, Spitsbergen, is inhabited–one town is even populated by mostly Russians–and the rest of the islands are nature reserves. Most of the towns’ festivals are during the cold part of the year–but for those around in early March (perhaps for the winter activities), you can catch the Sunfest Week, a celebration around the end of the polar nights.

Did You Know? Barentsburg and Pyramiden are home to the world’s two northernmost Lenin statues.

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Recommended Tours

A few of our recommended vendors run small-ship expeditions up to Svalbard during the summer. Though Finnair has started a summer service from Norway, it is generally recommended (due to the often harsh environment) that visitors go with a certified guide/escort.

What’s An Expedition Like? Embark your ship in Spitsbergen and sail around ice-covered fjords exploring the wilderness on the lookout for Svalbard’s unique arctic wildlife. Depending on conditions, itineraries may differ–something to keep in mind that early season voyages often allow for the best wildlife viewing. Later in the season, more distance is covered as the ice begins to break up in the warming summer–and you may even see the remote regions of Nordaustlandet and Kvitoya. Small ship cruises are always accompanied by scientific and historical lectures on board, and zodiac trips out into the wilderness.

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Snapshots: Expeditions to Svalbard

G Adventures

Svalbard Express — 7-day Longyearbyen roundtrip, which navigates the highlights of the Svalbard archipelago. G Adventures, famous for its casual, adventurous spirit, offers no strict itinerary and their ship tends to follow the best course for viewing wildlife and the fjords (which often changes due to the weather).

Hurtigruten

The Norwegian expedition cruise line offers a number of Svalbard itineraries, from 6- to 13-day cruises. Some embark in Reykjavik, Iceland, and others in Bergen, Norway.

Quark

Quark runs an impressive 13-day Circumnavigation and the even longer 15-day cruise from Edinburgh, which stops in the Orkneys and Shetlands. There is also the an award-winning Three Arctic Islands cruise available, which navigates a course from Scotsbysund (Greenland), Iceland, and Svalbard!

Lindblad

Lindblad, run by National Geographic, offers a plethora of Arctic itineraries, many of which that sail also to Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, in the footsteps of Viking sailors.

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Photos Courtesy of Visit Norway and Visit Svalbard.

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Join Disney on an Unforgettable Adventure!

Adventures by Disney® provides group-guided family vacations all over the world. Immerse yourself and your loved ones in the cultures and stories of people around the globe.

With Adventures by Disney®, you are treated to the VIP Experience—whether it’s a private tour of the Vatican museum or a dinner party at the Vienna Zoo. All tickets and admissions are included, guaranteeing that you can sit back and enjoy your hassle-free vacation. Join two Disney-trained Adventure Guides and a group of no more than 44 guests to the Americas, Europe, Asia, or Australia.

Watch what one of these Adventures by Disney® may be like for you and your family:

Adventures by Disney® in Norway: Begin your adventure with a visit to the storybook village of Bergen, the inspiration for the kingdom of Arendelle, home to Anna and her sister Elsa in Disney’s animated adventure, Frozen. Journey through western Norway’s naturally beautiful fjords and other awe-inspiring landscapes, learn traditional folk dancing, and try your hand at trout fishing and river rafting.

Watch the Video Here:

Did You Know? Disney has recently announced plans for a “Frozen” attraction at the Norway Pavilion in Walt Disney World’s Epcot park in Florida. The recreation of Arendelle is slated to open in early 2016.

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