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Travel News: Changes for the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Your Checked Bags

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Rome’s Colosseum Opens Top Levels To Public

Seats on the fifth level of the amphitheatre were once reserved for ancient Roman society’s lowest commoner: the plebeian. The highest level of Rome’s ancient Colosseum opened to the public for the first time in 40 years on November 1. The seats boasted a breathtaking view, not only of the gladiator battles far below, but of the heart of the empire. Far below, tourists peering down into the maze of galleries in the monument’s belly appear as tiny specks, showing just how far away the commoners were from the arena floor, where terrified prisoners were forced to fight wild beasts. Those squeezed together on wooden benches had a long way to climb to get to their seats – but the tickets were free. Once they were there spectators were protected by a large canvas from sudden downpours. Visitors will have to book guided tours, which will take groups of a maximum of 25 people up into the gods level at a time. They will start with an exceptionally well-preserved corridor between the second and third floors, where traces of the lavatories can still be seen. There is also evidence of restorations to the walls following a fire sparked by lightning in 217 AD. The tour will continue to the third floor, where the middle-classes sat, and on to the fourth, where merchants and traders enjoyed the famously grisly shows. The first level was reserved for the emperor and his senators. Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum was the biggest amphitheater built during the Roman empire. Standing 48.5 meters (159 feet) high, it was capable of hosting 80,000 spectators for feasts of entertainment that encapsulated the brutality, hedonism and engineering genius that were among the defining features of ancient Rome. The first phase of a major makeover of the venue was completed in July 2016, with a number of sections structurally strengthened and most of the remaining walls water-sprayed to remove centuries of encrusted dirt and grime. 

Rome Eyes Trevi Fountain Cash To Bolster City Finances

Rome is going through a budgetary crisis at the moment, and with cash in short supply, officials are now even eyeing the city’s iconic Trevi Fountain. Every year, millions of tourists flock to the former seat of empire to view the city’s many sites. A good deal of them toss coins into the near 300-year-old fountain, the haul of which reportedly hit $1.5 million in 2016 alone, chump change compared to the city’s estimated €12 billion ($14 billion) debt. It’s believed that anyone who turns their back on the baroque masterpiece and tosses a coin into the fountain is destined to return. The cash is usually scooped up and given to Catholic charity Caritas, but not from April 2018, if Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has her way. It’s not only the Trevi Fountain that is being targeted but all of the city’s monumental fountains. Raggi has reportedly earmarked the coveted cash for projects yet to be decided on by city hall, although il Giornale reports that some of the money will be redirected to “social welfare projects.” The city’s debt essentially consists of financial and commercial debt, with other types affecting the figure to a lesser extent. Basically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, more than half of the debt is in the hands of banks, whereas private debt makes up just over a quarter of the €12 billion.

 

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Trevi Fountain

 

TSA PreCheck Program Has Added More Airlines

Five more airlines recently joined TSA PreCheck, bringing the total number of domestic and international carriers to 42. If you still don’t have TSA PreCheck, Its just $85 (covering a five-year membership), your PreCheck will work at more than 180 U.S. airports. and All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Finnair, Korean Air, and charter airline Contour Aviation all agreed to recognize the trusted traveler program, the Transportation Security Administration announced. Etihad Airways was the only foreign airline outside of North America to offer this perk to passengers until September 2016, when German carrier Lufthansa became the first European airline to join the PreCheck program. (A number of other international carriers jumped on the bandwagon shortly thereafter.) And while other airlines are no doubt interested in joining the PreCheck club, the process is far from simple: Carriers have to meet all TSA security requirements and upgrade reservations systems to sync with the U.S. government’s Secure Flight prescreening system; after all, even if you’re an existing TSA PreCheck member, it’s the airline that issues the boarding pass, and it’s that document that displays your PreCheck eligibility to the agent manning the entrance to the checkpoint.

Visa Introduces New Payment Wearables For Fans Attending Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018

ETN reports Visa, the exclusive payment technology partner at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, has introduced three commercially available wearable payment devices. In the spirit of the Olympic Winter Games, Visa created NFC-enabled payment gloves, commemorative stickers and Olympic pins that allow fans and athletes to complete seamless and secure payments with a simple tap at any contactless-enabled terminal. Visa teamed up with Lotte Card, the financial arm of South Korean-based retail giant, Lotte Department Store, to produce and make these new prepaid payment wearables, now available for purchase, in Korea.

  • Commemorative Olympic Pin: Visa is bringing to market four unique lapel pins featuring custom PyeongChang 2018 designs to offer a payment-enabled collectable for fans and athletes to utilize on-site. Cost per pin is KRW5,000 plus desired embedded prepaid amounts valued at KRW30,000 or KRW50,000.
  • Payment-Enabled Gloves: The average temperature in PyeongChang will be – 4.8 degree celsius, so gloves will be a must-have! This payment glove will offer fans a way to pay safely and securely without having to get cold hands. The gloves contain a dual interface chip housed with a contactless antenna capable of completing purchases throughout official Olympic Venues and compatible readers globally. The gloves will come with embedded prepaid amounts valued at KRW30,000 or KRW50,000.

 

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Viking Ocean

 

Viking Offers Ocean And River Combination Cruises In 2018

Taking advantage of its ocean and river ship fleet, Viking is offering combination cruises where passengers do both types of itineraries in one trip. Called Ocean & River Voyages, the sailings allow passengers to easily go between two cruises by transferring them between ships in a single port. The line also notes that a combo trip means you only have to fly overseas once, yet enjoy two different voyages. Two itineraries are available for 2018. The first combines the traditional Rhine River cruise with Viking Ocean’s popular Norwegian Fjords itinerary; passengers transfer between a Viking Longship and Viking Sun in Amsterdam. The 15-day July trip runs between Basel and Bergen. The second itinerary also begins on the Rhine River, on a Viking Longship, starting in Basel and ending in Amsterdam. Instead of heading north, passengers will take Viking Sky to Le Havre to visit Paris, cross the English Channel to Portsmouth and then sail south to Spain, stopping in Vigo, Granada and Cartagena. The 18-day September 29 cruise ends in Barcelona.

Best Western Rolls Out Systemwide Mobile Platform For Guests

Best Western Hotels & Resorts has launched a mobile platform to enhance guest engagement before, during and after a stay. Previously active at 360 properties and now being rolled out globally, the Best Western Mobile Guest Engagement Platform features a number of capabilities, such as mobile check-in and check-out, including late check-out functions; email or text communication with the system and with property staff; purchasing upgrades and ordering Ubers, and mobile room key capabilities also are coming soon. The technology, which does not require users to download a smartphone app, is provided in partnership with Runtriz. The properties that have tested the platform saw increases in both guest satisfaction and room revenue via upselling and advertising functions, and Medallia Net Promoter Scores, which measure customers’ willingness to recommend products, increased by as much as 18 points among guests using the mobile requests feature.

 

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Regent Seven Seas Cruises

 

Regent Names New Ship Seven Seas Splendor

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has announced its 2020 newbuild will be named Seven Seas Splendor and is now scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2020. As part of the naming process, Regent Seven Seas Cruises sought suggestions from its valued travel agents, loyal guests and employees for the ship’s name in a sweepstakes held in September. Seven Seas Splendor was chosen among nearly 2,600 unique names from more than 14,000 submissions, the company said. 

Airlines Ordered To Keep A Much Closer Watch On Your Bags

Airlines have been told to improve the tracking of luggage during flights as figures showed that almost 22 million items went missing last year. Regulations will be introduced next summer in an attempt to cut the number of bags being lost after it emerged that mistakes cost the air industry $2.1 billion in 12 months. A new duty will be introduced by IATA in June next year that requires airlines to track bags at four critical points during a journey. This instantly flags up if bags have been lost, rather than putting the onus on passengers to report losses when luggage fails to turn up on the collection belt. It will also force them to share data on bags between carriers. It is expected that the system will cut baggage losses by up to 30%. At present there are no universal obligations towards tracking and recording bags. More than 21 million pieces of luggage went missing worldwide last year after check-in. Almost half were lost during the transfer process when passengers connected between aircrafts. More than 90 per cent were reunited with their owners, although one in six was damaged or had contents stolen. The remaining unclaimed bags were auctioned by airlines or given to charity. 

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6 Travel News Tidbits

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1. Viking Cruises partners with National Geographic

Viking Cruises will sponsor National Geographic’s first fully scripted global anthology series, “Genius,” which will tell the story of Albert Einstein. During the global premiere of Genius — April 25 at 9PM ET/PT on National Geographic — Viking will showcase their brand campaign “Time.” The Founder of Viking, Torstein Hagen, is a lifelong admirer of Einstein and a physicist himself. Read more on their website.

2. Hilton rapidly expanding

In 2016, Hilton opened a whopping 354 properties — that’s nearly one per day! Hilton is especially progressing in China, with 328 properties open or to open. In total, Hilton has 4875 hotels open worldwide.  

3. More attention to flying needs for children with neurological issues

Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® are sponsoring airport “rehearsals” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The programs are designed to alleviate the stress that families who have a child with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities experience when flying. It provides families the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and boarding a plane. Learn more here at The Arc’s website

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4. What’s NEW for the 72-Hour Visa Free Transit in Beijing

Beijing has introduced new regulations concerning the 72-hour transit without visa. Travelers must now fill in an application and wait for clearance. An application form and background check are required for stays over 24 hours. So travelers need: 1) onward ticket, 2) application form, 3) background check. This system doesn’t necessarily exist in other Chinese cities as they can be different. In Shanghai, for instance, you can stay double the time (6 days / 144 hours) without a visa. Ask your WIT Travel Agent to Learn More.

5. Avalon Waterways Announces A New Ship

Avalon Waterways is expanding in 2018 with a new ship for the Mekong River, adding new active and themed cruises and cutting the single supplement for all European river cruises. The line’s next new ship will be based on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. The 36-passenger vessel will be called Avalon Saigon and will launch in September 2018. The cabins will be slightly bigger, at 245 square feet, with sliding French balcony doors that extend 9 feet. The 14-foot windows have screens to keep out insects. Ask your WIT Travel Agent about available cruises, itineraries, and pre- and post-cruise land tours. 

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6. Did You Know? Two-thirds Of Travel Websites In EU Mislead On Prices

According to a European Commission report, 2/3 of EU websites display misleading prices. Of the 352 price comparison and travel booking websites checked in October 2016, the Commission found 235 gave prices that were not reliable. The sweep of websites, conducted with consumer protection authorities, found that in 1/3 of cases, the final price was not the same as the first price shown. In 1/5 of cases, promotional prices were not available at all. Additionally, in 1/3 of cases, the final price or the way it was calculated was not clear. In a quarter of instances, websites did not make it clear that room availability applied just to that site, and rooms might be available through other channels. The Commission said the 235 websites will have to correct the irregularities and it will ensure sites comply with national enforcement procedures.

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Filed under Avalon Waterway, China, Cruises, Europe, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises

Travel News: Lights Up Down-Under

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Lights Up Down-Under
A round trip flight from New Zealand just for the view the Southern Lights. Otago Museum Director Ian Griffin came up with the idea. An astronomer, Griffin said he was inspired after seeing the Southern Lights while flying as a guest on a NASA observatory plane. A charter plane that left Dunedin, New Zealand, late Thursday flew close to the Antarctic Circle to give the eager passengers an up-close look at the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights. He says the 134 seats on the chartered Boeing 767 sold out within five days and one man traveled from Spain for the trip. He says he could have filled the plane several times over, although they were only selling window seats and seats immediately adjacent, leaving the middle of the aircraft empty.“I thought it was absolutely brilliant,” Griffin said. “We were right under it. There were beautiful streamers, auroral streamers. This green-colored stuff that moves quickly, it looks like you’re looking into a green, streaky river.”
 
Viking Cruises Launches New Resident Historian Program
Viking Cruises has announced the roll-out of its new onboard Viking Resident Historian program. Launching on Viking Star, Viking Sea and Viking Sky this month, a faculty of historians will provide an enhanced level of enrichment for guests onboard all of Viking’s ocean cruise ships,” said the company, in a statement. According to the cruise line, the Viking Resident Historians will provide guests with a high-level historical and cultural education that is specific to their journey, offering a framework for understanding the major chapters in world history. They will also conduct seminar-style roundtables.
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Large Sections of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Are Now Dead
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has long been one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders. But the reef, and the profusion of sea creatures living near it, are in profound trouble. Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life. The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. The state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.Australia relies on the Great Barrier Reef for about 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue, and it is not yet clear how that economy will be affected by the reef’s deterioration. Even in hard-hit areas, large patches of the Great Barrier Reef survived, and guides will most likely take tourists there, avoiding the dead zones.
 
The new Berlin Welcome Card
The card covers admission to 30 attractions across the city as well as public transportation, and is commissionable. Among the highlights is access to selected national museums such as the Pergamon Museum and the Bode Museum, and private museums such as C/O Berlin, the Jewish Museum, and the DDR Museum. A hop-on, hop-off bus tour and a boat cruise are also included as is admission to Berlin’s TV Tower and Madame Tussaud’s. The city guide that comes with the pass provides insider tips and the city map points the way to all of the participating sites. The Berlin WelcomeCard is all-inclusive and is available for $84 for adults and $52 for children ages 3 to 14 and is available for three durations: 48 hours, 72 hours, and four calendar days. The Berlin WelcomeCard all inclusive includes public transport in the city of Berlin and the surrounding region. It will be sold at Berlin Tourist Information centers, at berlin-welcomecard.com, at turbopass.com, and by travel agents and tour operators. The Berlin WelcomeCard all inclusive is being offered in partnership with Turbopass. 
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New Orleans breaks tourism records
A new study says New Orleans has broken a tourism record set before Hurricane Katrina, with nearly 10.5 million visitors in 2016. The record had stood at 10.1 million since 2004, the year before the hurricane struck. University of New Orleans’ Hospitality Research Center says last year’s visitors spent US $7.41 billion dollars. That’s 51 percent more than the amount spent in 2004, and 5.1 percent above the spending record set in 2015. Mayor Mitch Landrieu says in a news release that he’s looking forward to 2017 being even bigger.
Museum Of Ice Cream Announces Its Opening In Los Angeles
Museum of Ice Cream opens its doors to the West Coast this April claiming sunny Los Angeles as its highly anticipated second location. Stationed in DTLA’s burgeoning art district, Museum of Ice Cream welcomes visitors to enjoy an experiential ice cream journey. Museum of Ice Cream captivated a global audience with its unprecedented 2016 launch in New York City, selling out in five days and attracting a waitlist of over 200,000. The Los Angeles location is four times larger than the New York City incarnation and showcases 10 completely reimagined installations. Interactive highlights include a “banana split” comprised of ten thousand “bananas”, a mint “grow house”, a room dedicated to California, a melted popsicle jungle and more. The iconic swimmable sprinkle pool returns filled with one hundred million sprinkles that were custom designed and produced by Museum of Ice Cream! Museum of Ice Cream is open from April 22 until May 29 from 11 am-10 pm, Wednesday-Monday. Tickets include two curated ice cream tastings and surprise edible treats!
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Off the beaten track in Mexico
Isla Holbox (pronounced “ole-bosh”) has just been added as a “hidden hotspot” among vacation destinations in Mexico. Part of the Yum Balam Natural Reserve, the island offers vacationers a pristine tropical haven away from the hustle and bustle of more well-travelled tourist hotspots.Comprised of sandy-white beaches and home to a diverse and protected ecosystem, Isla Holbox is a popular island destination for bird watchers, snorkelers and beach lovers. Along with a variety of land and water sports excursions available, travellers in the summer months can also opt to join a snorkeling or boat tour to view the annual migration of the whale sharks that takes place close to the island between the months of June and September. There are two quaint hotels on the island to appeal to a range of travelers. At both properties complimentary kayaks and bikes are available to enable independent explorations of the island and windsurfing, kite surfing and fishing are also offered for an additional fee. Villas HM Palapas Del Mar, is a small, oceanfront hotel where guests can watch romantic sunsets from their infinity pool overlooking the beach.Those looking to adopt a slower pace can opt for Villas HM Paraiso Del Mar, with a  large swimming pool surrounded by lush vegetation, buffet meals, and unlimited national drinks and cocktails. Offers include packages where guests can enjoy four nights on the peaceful Isla Holbox, and three nights in Riviera Maya at Reef Coco Beach or the cosmopolitan HM Playa del Carmen resort—both of which are quite close to shopping, nightlife, and the exciting attractions of Playa Del Carmen’s 5th Avenue. Call your travel agent to discuss week-long packages. 

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Ringing in the New Year

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It’s our last post of the year, and 2016 has been quite a big one!

Thank you to all of our clients whose trips we’ve arranged these year; it was our pleasure to see that you enjoy the vacation you deserve. We hope that you made albums full of memories to treasure your whole lives. Some of our clients this year have been new, some we have serviced for the past 20 years. We take pride in providing the most special and informed travel arrangements for each and every one. Thank you, clients and subscribers to our blog, without you our business would not be possible.

This past year there have been a fair share of changes in the office. We saw long-time staff member Linda Fisher retire. Krista left for Arizona, and Racheal, Lori and Debbie joined us as new agents.

Our Agents embarked on a few trips this year, which we’re so excited to share with you. Christina and John led a group in Namibia. Barb visited the new locks at the Panama Canal. Pam dropped in on the islands of Malta. Nancy sailed with Viking Ocean, and Barb and Racheal with Un-Cruise Adventures to Baja California. Wailana moved to Stockholm, where she continues to work with our social media.

Next year we will celebrate our 40th birthday–quite an accomplishment! Mark the weekend of August 5-6, 2017 on your calendars, we’ll be planning a special Birthday party. We hope to see you there.

For more updates, catch up with us in our newsletter from Fall 2016.

Here’s to 2017 having more Travel in store for everyone!

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Safari in Namibia

Transylvania, the Land Beyond the Forest

The Elephants that Came to Dinner

Napili Kai Beach Resort

Agent Trip Report: Malta

And a flashback from the past: Where to Spot the Southern Cross

See you next year! — From all of us at Willamette Intl Travel

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Filed under Africa, California, Europe, Mexico, Namibia

Travel News: Delta and Alaska Airlines Will End Partnership in May 2017

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Delta and Alaska Airlines Will End Partnership in May 2017
Effective May 1, 2017, Delta and Alaska will no longer have a codeshare agreement, and sales of flights under DL- and AS-coded flight numbers flown on Alaska and Delta aircraft respectively will cease. Additionally, customers of each airline will no longer be able to earn and redeem Delta miles or Mileage Plan miles on flights operated by the other carrier. The carriers will retain an interline agreement, allowing them to continue offering customers ticketing and baggage connectivity.

Port Everglades Receives Federal Authorization to Deepen and Widen Channels
The Port Everglades Navigation Improvements Project has received federal authorization for the US Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with deepening and widening the port’s navigation channels as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act signed into law December 16, 2016. The project is currently in the pre-construction engineering and design phase, and can now proceed through the permitting and federal funding processes. The project is anticipated to create an estimated 2,200 construction jobs and nearly 1,500 permanent direct jobs locally resulting from additional cargo capacity. The project could not come at a more crucial time to support the new, larger post Panamax ships now traversing the recently widened Panama Canal. The ability to accommodate larger cruise and cargo ships means the Port will remain a dynamic economic engine in the region.”

Shifting Visa Fees to Vietnam Can Be Confusing
The Chicago Tribune reports a State Department official, the US and Vietnam ratified an agreement last April that permitted Vietnam to issue 12-month, multiple-entry visas to US citizens. The US similarly allows Vietnamese citizens multiple-entry, 12-month visas for short-term business or tourism. It appears though, that the 12-month visas are the only ones available, instead of the former 30-day visa option. And the fee had skyrocketed. The Vietnam Embassy’s website (www.vietnamembassy.us) doesn’t list prices. It simply directs people to an email address and a phone number with multiple extensions. Depending on the embassy the price may range from $80 to $220. Because fees appear to be flexible, it’s a good idea to check with multiple consulates and the embassy for the lowest price. You’ll need to mail your passport and include a prepaid return envelope. Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond your planned stay. Must also have a minimum of 2 empty visa pages. We recommend that you pay the extra fee to work through a reliable Visa Service company. 

British Airways will charge for hot water
BusinessTraveller reports British Airways has confirmed that when the new Buy on Board short-haul service begins in January, “the airline will only provide cups for beverages purchased in flight”. The statement is in line with instructions to crew which state that only “potable water” will be available on request. All food and drink, including soft drinks and tea and coffee will be chargeable, and passengers will not be able to avoid paying simply by requesting hot water, then using their own coffee granules or tea bags. If customers do request a tea cup, then this will be charged “at the retail price regardless of whether a tea bag is required.”

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Royal Caribbean Cruises To Hire Lifeguards
Cruiselawnews reports that RCCL is now advertising that it is hiring lifeguards on its cruise ships. The cruise line posted the availability of the lifeguard position as of December 21, 2016. The posting (below) indicates that the lifeguard “will need to perform rescue of Guests in danger of drowning and be vigilant to potential accidents. Will be trained to administer first aid, CPR, Oxygen & AED as required. This position will open, close, monitor and operate aquatic recreational spaces including but not limited to Swimming Pools, H2O Zones / Splashaway Bay and other designated water attractions . . . ” This reflects a change of position with this cruise line which previously did not employ lifeguards on its cruise ships. Most cruise lines, with the exception of Disney Cruises, do not employ lifeguards on their ships.

App Reveals Wi-Fi Passwords For Airports Worldwide

A handy Google Map created by travel blogger and computer security engineer Anil Polat reveals wifi passwords from airports all around the world and is constantly updated with tips from travelers. As the list has grown in popularity, Polat has turned it into an app called WiFox. By clicking on the planes on the map, you’ll discover that the passwords for various airline lounges are revealed. And if you’re feeling like sharing the knowledge the next time you’re traveling, send on that password. Polat’s WiFox map is updated regularly, based on verified information submitted by travelers. It’s available in iOS, Android, and Google Play.

Bookings Up For New American Duchess Riverboat

American Queen Steamboat Co. reports heavy demand for the inaugural season of American Duchess, its new all-suite paddle-wheeler scheduled to debut on the Mississippi in June. American Duchess offers three 550-square-foot owner’s suites, four 550-square-foot loft suites (a first on the US rivers), two 450-square-foot deluxe suites and spacious veranda and interior suites. American Queen Steamboat Co. said the new vessel will deliver same high standards of service, entertainment and shore excursions that customers have come to expect from a line that also operates American Queen in the US heartland and American Empress in the Pacific Northwest. American Duchess fares include a pre-cruise hotel night at iconic boutique properties.

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29 Cruise Ships Receive Perfect CDC Scores in 2016

Holland America’s Eurodam continues its streak of perfect health ratings from the Centers for Disease Control in 2016, receiving a score of 100 for the 10th consecutive time. Four other Holland America ships, Westerdam, Veendam, Noordam and Maasdam, also earned perfect scores during the year, joining the 29 total vessels that passed the unannounced inspections with no black marks. The CDC inspects all ships that sail in or out of a U.S. port twice a year. Ships must earn a score of 86 or higher to pass. In 2015, 32 cruise ships received perfect scores. Celebrity earned the most perfect scores, with six ships receiving 100. Royal Caribbean had four ships with perfect scores; Carnival Cruises had three, as did Princess Cruises; Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruises had two ships that scored 100. Within the luxury category, Crystal Serenity, Oceania’s Regatta and Silverseas’ Silver Shadow all earned top scores.

Cuba Tourism Boom leads to Lack of Food
Tourism Industry News reports For a few years now, Cuba has been opening its economy. As a result, and thanks to the warmer relations with the US, the number of tourists coming to the country has been growing fast. After decades of isolation, Cuban tourism industry reported almost 3.5 million visitors in 2015. The record number of travelers however has caused a serious trouble for the locals, the lack of food. The goods that Cubans were used to have is not available any more. The food goes to the rising numbers of tourists that can afford to pay prices which the locals cannot. The reasons for the dire effects of Cuban tourism boom is, according to experts, not only the US embargo, but also the insufficient governmental planning. Fresh vegetable, for instance, are so expensive for Cubans, that it mostly goes to private restaurants serving the tourists. Thanks to the increased prices of staples like peppers and onions, as well as limes and pineapples are quite unaffordable for many. It is even hard to find any soda or beer in the shops since most of it is bought in bulk by the restaurants. The disparity between the prices of food and the salaries is astronomical. The revenues from Cuban tourism greatly benefits the growing private sector. However, most Cubans still work for the state-run companies. For them, buying a pound of onions and of tomatoes would take 10% of a standard government salary, which is about $25 a month. According to Juan Alejandro Triana, an economist at the University of Havana, the government has not invested sufficiently in the agriculture for a long time. The produce planned for 11 million people cannot feed the 3.5 million tourists as well.

US Considers Cellphones On Flights But No Calls 

The Washington Post reports the federal government on Thursday moved closer to allowing cellphone use during flights, but with a catch: Passengers won’t be able to use the devices to make calls. If approved, the new rules would mean consumers could use their data plans to surf the Web or send e-mails and texts once a plane reaches 10,000 feet but passengers could not make voice calls. Many of the details have yet to be worked out.

E-cigarette Causes Fire On American Airlines Flight
An e-cigarette has something new in common with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Both have smoked up airplanes. Last Thursday, an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Indianapolis was diverted to Little Rock, Arkansas, when “a passenger’s electronic cigarette in their possession malfunctioned and burst into flames. Thanks to the quick actions of our crew members, the fire was extinguished,” a spokesman for the airline said.added. The plane was an MD-80 and the airline says that none of the 137 passengers and 5 crew members were hurt. The passengers were put on another plane and the incident has been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Iconic Atlantis Resort Coming To Hawaii
China Oceanwide entered into a management agreement today with subsidiaries of Kerzner International Holdings Limited, a leading international developer and operator of destination resorts and ultra-luxury hotels, for a new, Atlantis resort in Ko Olina, a 642 acre development on Oahu beaches in Hawaii. This will be the first Atlantis resort in the United States, along with the brand’s flagship in Dubai, Atlantis, The Palm and the new icon in China, Atlantis, Sanya Hainan which will open in 2017, as well as The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences in Dubai.

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EU To Support Pilots With Mental Health Concerns
European aviation safety regulator EASA has published proposals to improve support to pilots who have mental health concerns, and increase checks before and during employment. The European Aviation Safety Agency proposals include access by pilots to mental health programe; a requirement for airlines to carry out psychological assessments of pilots before employment; and drug and alcohol testing after incidents. Random tests would also be carried out after pilots return to work.

Viking’s Mississippi River Plans Delayed

Previously plans To cruise the Mississippi River by European cruise giant Viking now appears uncertain. The cruise line with ships gliding down rivers in Europe, China and Egypt announced plans last year to launch a fleet of cruise ships on the Mississippi, traveling from New Orleans to St. Louis and occasionally St. Paul, by 2017. Earlier this year, Viking said it was pushing its move to the Mississippi to 2018. Viking has issued this statement: “We are actively working with our partners to launch on the Mississippi River, but at this point in time we do not have any details to share regarding product specifics or a launch timeline.”

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Where in the World is the WIT Agent? — Sailing the Viking Ocean!

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We’re continuing the Celebration of National Cruise Month! Virtually all major cruise lines are offering special discounts and rates this month! Call our office to inquire: 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

Where in the World is the WIT Agent? — Sailing the Viking Ocean!

WIT Agent Nancy Fowler, a longtime fan of cruise vacations, is out on the open seas this week onboard with Viking Ocean Cruises!

Viking Ocean Cruises is the ocean branch of Viking Cruises, famous for their state-of-the-art river cruises. Itineraries are diverse and delightful, with ports such as Barcelona, Bergen, San Juan and Limassol. Step deep into history and natural beauty for a week or a month—it’s up to you!

Infinity Pool, artist's rendering, image provided by Viking Cruises

The Viking Ocean Cruises boasts a fleet of five all-veranda ships with elegant and minimalist Scandinavian design. Viking Star, the flagship of the line, received numerous laudations from Cruise Critic, CNN, Berlitz and more. With just 930 guests at full capacity, these small ships give access and intimacy that larger cruise lines just can’t compete with.

We have sent countless clients on Viking Cruises, which come highly recommended for their service and all-inclusive packages. Their immersive program of educational lectures, special dining, regional music performances, folkloric shows and an onboard cooking school are designed for the sole purpose of providing an enriching experience for guests.

In 2014, we organized the air, cruise, hotel, and pre-/post-cruise arrangements in Russia for 70+ of Portland’s own Royal Rosarians.

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All-Inclusive Cruises include:

  • – one included shore excursion in every port of call
  • – access to top-rated spa
  • – beer, wine and soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch
  • – port taxes and fees
  • – restaurant dining
  • – 24 hour room service
  • – self-service laundry

See more of our posts on Viking: 

Call our agents at Willamette Intl Travel to find out more about the itineraries Viking Cruises offers in 2017. We can share our expertise and advise if Viking is right for you. Call 503-224-0180 to chat. 

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Filed under Europe, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Client Report: Viking Ocean’s Star in the Mediterranean

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Our agents at Willamette Intl Travel booked a cruise with Viking Ocean for long-time client Nancy T. Now Nancy’s come back from her amazing trip through the Mediterranean. Hear what she has to say about the voyage:

How was the Ship?

The Viking Star is absolutely stunning. It is very well thought out. Even though there were over 900 people on the ship, you never felt crowded. Our room was quite large and the bathroom was exceptional – full size shower and heated floor! The food was amazing. We loved the sauna and snow grotto room. Because we took an extensive excursion every day, we really didn’t have time to try out all the amenities on the ship. You could spend your entire trip onboard! There are so many beautiful places on the ship.

You did the pre-cruise extension, Two Nights in Istanbul, with Viking. How was the hotel?

Istanbul was beautiful. A side note to Viking—the Conrad hotel is not well placed for visitors. I know Viking will be getting a lot of feedback regarding that. It’s a beautiful hotel but not situated well for those wanting to explore Istanbul. Lots of business people and conferences being held there. It’s  a 30 – 40 minute walk to the nearest transit station and then another 20 minute ride to the old section. Taxis from the hotel to the old section are expensive because of where the hotel is placed and all the traffic.

(Note from Wittravel: The Conrad is a superb hotel, but indeed may be suitable for those travelers who wish to relax before their voyage. For those who want quicker access to the sights and smells of Istanbul, we can arrange nights in many excellent hotels closer to the city center. Call us for a one-on-one consultation.) 

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Tell us about the Excursions — how was Istanbul?

We did the guided tour provided by Viking on the first day – well thought out. The second day, we walked and took the light rail to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Also went to a small bazar. The next day was spent entirely at The Topkapi Palace which is huge. We were too tired to get to the Grand Bazaar or go to the recommended spice market. It was good we had done the smaller bazaar since it had spice stores there.

We did see some of the Syrian refugees. It broke our hearts. Turkey is trying hard to deal with them compassionately but their patience is running out. There are already over 2 million refugees and a million more are expected. I have a greater regard for Turkey and its place in our world.

We loved all the other, added-on excursions we did. I fell in love with Montenegro. Our excursion was 5 hours that day. Santorini was amazing – that was an 8-hour day. Athens was a 6-hour tour. Kusadasi ( Ephesus) was a 3.5-tour.

Final Thoughts?

It was an amazing, exciting trip. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore that part of the world. Another side note – the majority of passengers on the ship had already on it for ten days before we got on it. They had combined this trip with another one which started in Barcelona.

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Viking Cruises launched its first ocean-going itinerary in May of this year. Ocean voyages have been fully booked up well into 2016! Viking’s world-renown cruise line has ranked highly on multiple travel lists, including Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List, Travel + Leisure World’s List, Travel Weekly Readers’ Choice Awards, and National Geographic’s The 10 Best of Everything. The ocean cruises continue the Viking tradition of an all-inclusive experience, from all onboard meals, cultural enrichment, complimentary room service, to shore excursions, wifi, self-service laundry, wine, beer & soft drinks, and all port charges and government taxes.

The Viking Star is an all-veranda ship that accommodates up to 928 passengers. Combining Viking world-class standards with refreshing itineraries, the Viking Star is the ultimate luxury voyage that enhances each destination port. From the lavish 270-square-foot veranda to the premium Owner’s Suite spanning a whopping 1448 square feet, there’s something for everyone on the Star. She will be equipped with multiple restaurants, serene Wintergarden lanai, Piano Bar, Explorer’s Lounge, and a Nordic Spa. The Star will also have as its token jewel an Infinity Pool that is cantilevered over the ocean—the only one of its kind among cruise ships worldwide.

Call us for more information on Viking and their ocean and river itineraries. Contact 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Cruises, Europe, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises