How to Avoid Jet Lag

by Dawn Emery, The Independent, March 20, 2017

We all go on holiday for some rest and relaxation… and then often find we can’t sleep.

The bad news is that there’s a biological reason why most of us won’t sleep very well on the first night. Scientists have discovered that we sleep poorly when we first arrive at an unfamiliar place because one half of our brain stays more alert to “keep watch” in case of danger.

“It goes back to our evolutionary past,” says Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of The Sleep School and brand ambassador for Bensons for Beds. “It’s a natural survival tendency. We see it in wild animals and birds too. Dolphins will sleep with one eye closed while the other is looking out for sharks. On the first night in a hotel, our brains are more vigilant, looking out for ‘lions and tigers’. It’s the same area of the brain that we see activated in chronic insomnia sufferers.

“The key is to try to dilute the sense that it’s a foreign environment. Humans are very routine-based. If you have a pillow that you’re quite particular about, pack it – it’ll give your body a sense of recognition. Or take a family photo to keep by your bedside to give a sense of home away from home.”

For the best chance of catching some holiday shut-eye, Meadows talks us through the techniques that work best.

Before you go

​Pre-empt jetlag by tweaking your sleeping patterns in the lead-up to your trip. “Jetlag is a confusion between your internal body clock and the actual time, and it gets much worse when you’re travelling east as you’re losing time,” says Meadows. But you can adapt your body clock before arrival. Adjust the time you go to sleep and wake up in the days before you leave, so that you’re moving towards your new time zone. Even if you’re flying longhaul, and can’t sleep to your destination’s schedule, getting closer by a few hours will take less time to adapt.

On the flight

Sleeping tablets may seem oh-so-tempting when you’re desperate for a quick fix. But they’re not always ideal to take on flights as you need to be awake when you land. “It’s increasingly becoming a really big problem for cabin crew, who have to try to wake up drugged individuals who are out for the count,” says Meadows. “I would not advise taking them, especially if you’re not used to them.” Instead, he advises upping your comfort levels. “I’ll wear comfortable clothes, a top with a big hood, an eye mask and ear plugs, to make myself a little cocoon,” says Meadows. “I’ll tell my neighbour that I don’t want to be disturbed, so I don’t get woken up every time the cabin crew comes round offering drinks.” He doesn’t indulge, either. “Planes can be incredibly stimulating. I know it makes the flight more boring, but it’s best to avoid caffeine, alcohol and watching films, as they keep your brain more awake.”

To get some shut-eye, Meadows says it’s best to recline your seat – just know that the person behind you might hate you. The British Chiropractic Association recommend leaning back at a 135-degree angle to help reduce pressure on the spine. Window seats obviously mean you have less chance of being disturbed if you want to nap. And if you’re willing to look utterly ridiculous on the plane, try an ‘ostrich pillow’, which envelops your head.

Before arrival

Don’t leave things to chance – if you’re easily disturbed by noise, you should tee up your hotel room when you book it. Midway down a corridor is usually the safest bet – that means you’re away from lifts and exits. In large hotels, try a room on a higher level, reducing the chance of being kept awake by the sound of large groups, restaurants and ballrooms. For low-rise hotels, rooms towards the back are often quieter – even if you do have to sacrifice a view. But above all, try not to worry. “If the noise is really bad, you can always ask reception if they can move you,” says Meadows. “But often the thing that keeps people awake isn’t the actual noises from outside – it’s the chatter in the mind around that. It’s your mind telling you, ‘I’m never going to sleep here’ and the anxiety around that.”

Don’t go all out with a big dinner on your first night, either. Heavy meals aren’t ideal before bedtime, as your body has to work harder to digest them. Try to have protein with your last meal of the day – one that’s rich in tryptohan, an amino acid that’s used to make melatonin, the hormone which regulates our sleep cycles (turkey has it in high quantities, as des fish, seeds, eggs and tofu). Omega-3 fatty acids (in fish, nuts and seeds) can also help to relax the mind and muscles.

In your hotel room

“The amount of light stimulation is a problem these days,” says Meadows. “Especially when you’re away for work, it’s tempting to be on your laptop until you go to sleep. But I’d recommend switching off phones and laptops 30-40 minutes before you go to bed.” Light from screens and outside sources can affect melatonin production. “Keep your room as dark as possible – this includes switching off standby lights and televisions if you have to,” says Meadows. It’s also worth checking whether your hotel has blackout blinds, and if it has a pillow menu, don’t feel guilty about requesting several options.

Be careful with the air conditioning, too. “We tend to sleep better when the temperature is 16/17 degrees,” says Meadows. “It can be challenging when you’re away. If you have the air con on, then the air can be really dry and you need more humidity, so it’s about striking a balance between the two.”

Nodding off

Mindfulness is one of the techniques used by the Sleep Centre to successfully cure insomnia. “It helps calm those threat-detecting areas of your brain,” says Meadows. “Practise it on the plane or when you’re in bed ready to sleep. You might lie there just focusing on the movement of your breath, as a way to notice and let go of thoughts in a non-judgmental, accepting manner. This is also why you should stay away from your phone and computer: the physical act of sending emails and texts, he says, can increase stress levels, which is also counteractive to getting a restful sleep.




Cruisin the Mississippi River


(this article was recently published in the Independent Newspaper)

Having visited New Orleans for the best part of a decade, I’m more than acquainted with the Mississippi River – that mighty, magical, muddy mouthpiece of America that reaches the Gulf of Mexico right here in the Big Easy.

Yet despite that familiarity, I’ve never explored it, and so it was with some excitement that I boarded the largest steamboat ever built – the American Queen® – for a short river cruise.

She is just one of the American Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet of magnificent vessels. American Empress® travels the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest, while the company’s newest steamboat American Duchess, which is currently being fitted out as a super-luxurious, all-suite vessel – the first of its kind on US Rivers – will also travel the Mississippi and its tributaries.

Up the river: the American Queen sails down the Mississippi

On my trip, my fellow passengers had spent a couple of days exploring the Crescent City  – the food, the jazz and the legendary hospitality – and sad though they were to leave, stepping aboard this gleaming riverboat soon allayed any disappointment.

The vessel is everything you might imagine a centuries-old, high-class steamboat might have been. The opulent interiors start at check-in, with grand pianos, polished wooden fixtures and fresh flowers, while local characters in period dress complete the tribute as all are welcomed aboard.

Centre stage: inside the Grand Saloon Theater

With a blaring horn, we’re on our way, the vast paddles nudging us forward as we find our cabins. Mine has French doors that open up to reveal a plush Queen bed, velvet sofa and full bathroom completing a very comfortable picture.

It’s not long before it’s time for pre-dinner drinks, with a pianist playing old-time favourites in the lounge, then in the theatre, a taster of the entertainment on offer later. This stage, in the Grand Saloon, is a painstaking reproduction of the famous 19th-century Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, every inch of elegance and panache on show.

Comfortable: one of the suites aboard American Queen

Dinner is an extravaganza, the beautiful dining room coming alive with excitement as servers bring locally-influenced dishes to satisfied diners. Afterwards, a musical show with songs from the Deep South provides a stunning nightcap.

The next day we awake at Oak Alley Plantation, a superb pre-Civil War mansion, where a full tour awaits. Sun streams through the ancient live oaks, and an appetite for lunch on the deck is easily worked up.

In the afternoon, we set sail again. Some people attend talks by the on-board ‘Riverlorian’ about the Mississippi’s history, while others enjoy spa treatments or the fitness room. More still simply relax and take in the evocative riverside views.

The next day, after another full night of socialising, we set ashore at Baton Rouge and explore the state capital and its history with easy, hop-on, hop-off tour buses.

New Orleans once again beckons after one more evening of grandeur, gourmet dining and spectacular entertainment. We leave having experienced the most wonderful time on the Mississippi River, the nest of the old world combining with the new for something completely magical.

You can currently enjoy a cruise on the American Queen from just $2,799 (£2,301) on 11 June, 19 June, 26 June, 3 July, 17 July, 31 July and 7 August. To book your berth on a uniquely American river cruise – and see more promotions – visit

Cruise Ships are gonig to Cuba


(recent article in Miami Herald)

Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via sea since John F. Kennedy was president.

The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.

For passengers on this historic voyage, the visit included hours of tours through the city’s highlight reel. Dinner at a private Cuban restaurant, un paladar. Rides in classic — Cubans would call them rustic — 1950s cars, los almendrones. Strolls through the centuries-old Spanish squares of La Habana Vieja.

But for Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron and his son Bryan, then 13, Cuba’s unique allure really came to life when they walked into a Havana historical powerhouse: el Hotel Nacional.

Built in 1930 by a U.S. firm and U.S. architects, el Nacional was a haven for American mobsters and starlets. It also was the scene of a bloody siege key to the eventual rise of former dictator Fulgencio Batista. A bunker on the grounds dates to the Cuban Missile Crisis — the threat that eventually prompted Kennedy to sign the Cuba trade embargo that banned most trade and travel between U.S. citizens and the Communist island.

The embargo is still in place. But rules relaxed in 2014 by the U.S. government that allow its citizens to visit for cultural exchanges brought about 615,000 U.S. tourists last year to taste the long-forbidden apple in the Caribbean’s Garden of Eden. This year, an estimated 172,000 tourists will come via nine ships from eight U.S.-based cruise lines.

Until now, other travel sectors, such as airlines and hotels, have struggled to satiate a massive American appetite to see Cuba while dealing with the island’s antiquated infrastructure. Airlines have reduced flights and hotels have lowered their inflated prices. The cruise lines are expected to face that conundrum too, but to a much lesser degree because their unique form of accommodation offers a protection from the island’s shortage of modern hotels and efficient highways — for now.

“Everybody knows, both here and there, that there will have to be infrastructure development to support the onward growth,” said Adam Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose lines Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises will sail to Cuba this year. “Those are just the realities of going to a place that is super interesting and has limitations [and] constraints.” Over time, Cuba’s restaurants, ports, roads, hotels and other tourist facilities will improve, he believes. “But all of that is [still] totally in its infancy.”

In the travel boom spurred by former President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement of detente, international hotel companies signed building contracts and airlines scrambled to earn a chunk of the 110 available daily flight slots. U.S. arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator with the U.S. Hotel rates soared between 100 and 400 percent, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and others started operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn’t welcomed U.S. airlines in decades.

As the dust has started to settle, hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overshot demand for Cuba are cutting back on routes and using smaller planes. The reason: Cuba can be comparatively expensive and traveling there is sometimes cumbersome.

The average round-trip airfare for Cuba from the U.S. was about $342 in February, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corp. While less than the Caribbean round-trip average that month of $594, the fare is relatively high for travel to an island that has a limited number of hotel rooms — only 64,231 in 2015, according to a December Florida International University report on tourism in Cuba, or about 10,000 more than in Miami-Dade — meaning travelers may be hard pressed to find accommodations in their budget. Even taxi drivers, classic car drivers and paladar owners have increased their prices, sometimes doubling or tripling them, according to Insight Cuba.

But many of those challenges don’t exist on a cruise ship. So while airlines have cut back, cruise lines have pushed forward, adding itineraries through the end of the year. By the end of 2017, eight U.S. lines — seven based in Miami — will offer Cuba itineraries. Sailings aboard Carnival Corp.’s pioneering Fathom, which inaugurated U.S. cruise service, will be discontinued after June, but only because demand for its every-other-week trips to the Dominican Republic didn’t match the strength of its Cuba component.

“The cruise industry is pretty well contained, so we bring our own food, we bring our own garbage disposal systems, we want to leave as little footprint as possible but add to the economic prosperity that tourism overall brings,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which will sail to Cuba on all three of its lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Read more here:

Disney Cruise Line to sail to Italy and Ireland

Disney Cruise Line has announced that in summer 2018 it will sail new itineraries to first-time destinations including Italy and Ireland.

Disney Cruise Line’s new itineraries will take guests on a tour of Europe with visits to the Mediterranean, northern Europe, Norway and Iceland, as well as sailings to Alaska, the Caribbean and the Bahamas.

Disney Cruise Line guests can also experience Barcelona and Rome.

In Rome, guests will explore the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican, including chances to taste authentic local cuisine. Barcelona offers beaches, the market streets of Las Ramblas and the architecture of Gaudi and the famed Sagrada Família church.

On June 16, 2018, the Disney Magic will sail a seven-night cruise from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (Rome). Ports of call include Marseilles and Villefranche, France; and Genoa (Milan), Livorno (Florence, Pisa) and Naples, Italy.

On June 23, 2018, the Disney Magic will sail a seven-night itinerary from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Barcelona. Ports visited on this cruise are Naples, Livorno (Florence, Pisa) and Genoa (Milan), Italy; and Cannes and Marseilles, France.

Disney Cruise Line will also call on Genoa, Italy for the first time in 2018, as part of a three special sailing from Barcelona and Civitavecchia (Rome). A 10-night Mediterranean itinerary sailing from Barcelona on July 7, 2018, calls on Genoa, as well as other popular ports in Italy, France and Spain.

The Disney Magic will call on Cork, Ireland for the first time as part of Disney Cruise Line’s first-ever seven-night British Isles cruise, departing on September 2, 2018. Additional ports visited on this sailing include Dublin, Ireland; Greenock, Scotland; and Liverpool, England.

In 2018, the newly re-imagined Disney Wonder will return to Alaska for the summer season, offering five-, seven- and nine-night itineraries which will depart from Vancouver, Canada, with stops in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point and Tracy Arm Fjord.

Additionally, the Disney Fantasy will embark on a an 11-night southern Caribbean itinerary departing June 30, 2018, visiting tropical destinations such as the beaches of Aruba, Barbados, Martinique, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico and the Disney private island, Castaway Cay.


Baby Boomers Like to Travel

When it comes to aspirational activities, travel tops the list for Baby Boomers. That’s according to the AARP Travel Bucket List Survey, which was just released by AARP Travel.

According to the study, nearly 4 out of ten Baby Boomers have a travel bucket list, with 58 percent planning to take their next trip in two to five years. AARP found that just creating a travel bucket list motivated Boomers with a sense of hope and gave them something to look forward to. Additionally, 53 percent of those preparing for their next trip report that they are getting in shape to fully enjoy the experience.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Travel is the top aspirational activity for 50-plus Americans
  • 69 percent of Baby Boomers are optimistic that they will visit the next destination on their travel bucket list
  • Baby Boomers hope to get to more than 80 percent of their list in their lifetime, but consider it a success to check off 65 percent
  • 53 percent of Baby Boomers are getting in shape to prepare for their next bucket list trip
  • 36 percent of Baby Boomers have already started saving money for their next bucket list trip
  • Of the eight destinations on their travel bucket lists, half are domestic and half are international
  • 52 percent of baby boomers go online to get inspired

An analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that Americans over 50 years of age are investing over $125 billion per year in personal travel, a statistic that will grow as Boomers have more time to travel, AARP said. With Baby Boomers having already completed 25 percent of their travel bucket list, 37 percent of those surveyed will continue to create and check trips off of their lists because it gives them something to look forward to.

“Traveling keeps our body and mind active, from planning and creating an itinerary to getting in better physical shape for the trip,” said Denise Austin, fitness expert, health advocate and AARP Wellness Ambassador.  “Not only can being physically fit help make the vacation more enjoyable, it often leaves us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated when we’re back home.”

While the benefits of bucket list vacations are clear, there are barriers, AARP. According to the survey, 45 percent of Baby Boomers identify money as the biggest barrier to accomplishing their travel bucket list. This statistic is further solidified by the fact that 79 percent of people have investigated their next trip, but only 11 percent have booked it.

“Usability studies have indicated that consumers frequently check on the weather of possible travel destinations,” said AARP researcher Patty David. “It’s important to not only consider saving funds and budgeting for the trip, but also ensuring you’ve researched the best time to travel.”

Source: AARP Travel


Changes coming to Caribbean Cruises


(recent article in the Miami Herald)

The Caribbean and North America remain the cruise industry’s biggest playground — and will soon be busier yet, cruise executives said Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale at the industry’s largest annual conference, Seatrade Cruise Global.

In 2016, the Caribbean received the lion’s share of cruise ship deployments, at 33.7 percent, said Michele Paige, president of Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. That share is expected to grow by 5 percent in 2017, she said, with ships specifically designed for outdoor activities.

With the increase in ships comes new port development as well. Swiss line MSC Cruises is transforming a Bahamian island into a private beach port, while Jamaica is launching a massive port renovation program in its capital.

Geneva-based MSC, which has now sails one ship seasonally from PortMiami, is launching a North American expansion that includes two new ships dedicated to year-round voyages. Wednesday, MSC announced that the 4,488-passenger MSC Meraviglia, will move to Miami when it debuts in fall 2019. The company previously announced that the 4140-passenger MSC Seaside, which launches in late 2017, will also sail year-round from PortMiami. MSC Divinia, which currently sails from Miami with capacity for 3,502 passengers, will move to offering seasonal voyages.

MSC plans to add even more ships to North America in upcoming years, said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC, as part of the line’s expansion. It has already ordered 11 additional ships over the next 10 years, nearly doubling its current fleet of 12.

“It’s going to be a turning point for MSC,” Vago said in an interview.

Passengers can expect itineraries to include Ocean Cay, a private Bahamian island about 60 miles from Miami. Because of dredging in the 1960s, before environmental protections were enacted, ships will be able to sail right up to the island. Additional development, now underway, is for completion in late 2018. The former industrial wasteland will become a marine reserve, Vago said.

Jamaica ports are also set for a makeover that will include turning Kingston into a cruise destination, Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced at a press conference Tuesday evening.

The Kingston initiative is part of an ambitious strategy to eventually bring 5 million cruisers a year to Jamaica in the next five years, up from 1.66 million cruise passengers who visited the island in 2016.

The country also plans to upgrade and expand its existing cruise ports in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, upgrade Port Antonio on the northeastern coast of the island to accommodate smaller boutique ships and dredge the port in Kingston, the county’s capital, to accommodate large ships. The island has a fifth port, in Falmouth, that was opened in 2011.

The country also wants to expanding Jamaica’s shore excursion program, a project valued at “several million dollars.” Barlett said exact budgets and time lines are still in development.

Bartlett said he hopes the new developments will also connect Jamaica and Cuba in the northern Caribbean as a new itinerary option for cruise lines.

“In the early years, the itinerary was Havana-Kingston; that is where the center of cruise was,” he said. “Cuba is a game changer for the northern Caribbean and not only cruise tourism, but tourism as a whole. We are talking a more collaborative approach to development rather than a competitive approach.”

The addition of Cuba to itineraries has the potential to draw increased attention to the Caribbean as a whole, executives said during a Wednesday afternoon panel.

“Cuba is not a competition to anybody, it’s multiplying the itinerary experiences,” said Roberto Fusaro, president MSC Cruises (USA), whose line now visits the island with two of its ships.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said he expects Cuba to be a “home run” for the cruise company, which in 2017 is sailing to Cuba on all three of its lines: mainstream Norwegian Cruise Line, premium Oceania Cruises and luxury Regent Seven Seas.

“The first five sailings [on Norwegian Cruise Line], when we announced them in December, have sold like nothing else. The same for Oceania and Regent, but at meaninfully higher prices,” Del Rio said. “I’m not sure if those meaningfully higher prices will sustain.” Airlines, which seem to have misread demand for Cuba, have decreased their flights to the island.

Also on Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line gave a preview of its new class of ships, code named “Project Leonardo,” which feature more open areas in the bottom decks. The design fits with trends from other lines creating warm-weather ships; MSC’s new Seaside features lanais that jut out from ship’s side on the eighth of its 18 decks.

The design is a departure from Norwegian’s traditional approach, which typically features closed decks save for the open pool deck at the ship’s top. The aim, said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, is “so people can connect with the sea.”

The Norwegian ships, set for delivery in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025, will accommodate about 3,300 passengers each. Some of the line’s latest ships can accommodate more than 4,000 passengers — too large for some global ports.

“While this vessel is large, not all destinations in the world — and we do want to be a global cruise line — can handle 4,000- and 5,000-pasenger ships,” Del Rio said. “[This is the] perfect size to deliver top return on investment.”

And, in a subtle jab at technological announcements from competitors, including Carnival Corp., MSC and Royal Caribbean Cruises, Del Rio teased what may be ahead for Norwegian.

“[Project Leonardo ships will feature] cutting edge technologies customers can use as part of their fun, as compared to [just]opening their cabin door and getting beeps throughout the day of what they should be doing,” Del Rio said.

Read more here:



Why Cruises are Cool!


1. From a single pool to an aquatic oasis

Gone are the days when your only option for cooling off on a hot day was the single pool on the Lido Deck. Today’s big cruise ships have multiple pools, one or more water slides and kid’s wading and splash areas. Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, for instance, has three outdoor pools, three water slides collectively dubbed the “Perfect Storm” and a kiddy water area called Splashaway Bay; the line’s smaller Liberty of the Seas also has the Perfect Storm trio of water slides, Splashaway Bay and two pools. You’ll find similar offerings on big cruise ships from Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line.

2. From pure relaxation to total exhilaration

When cruising first took off in the ’70s and ’80s, travelers cruised in order to get away from it all, hang around by the pool, sip cocktails and read a book. There’s still plenty of relaxation to be had, but many of today’s cruisers are also looking for fun — and cruise ships have it in spades. Ziplines, simulated surfing, vertical tunnel skydiving, ropes courses and rock walls all offer enough adrenaline pumping action to keep most thrill seekers entertained.

B.B. King's Blues Club

3. From Las Vegas to Broadway

No more the days of sitting through a badly sung and danced Las Vegas-style revue with cheesy outfits and no special effects. Today’s cruise shows run the gamut from high-tech extravaganzas (on Carnival Cruise Line) and stage partnerships with entities like B.B. King, Lincoln Center and Billboard (on Holland America Line ships) to full-length Broadway or Broadway-inspired shows. Norwegian Cruise Line, for instance, has ships with productions of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” “Rock of Ages,” “Million Dollar Quartet” and “After Midnight,” while select Royal Caribbean ships feature “CATS,” “Mamma Mia!”, “We Will Rock You” and “Grease.”

4. From one massive dining room with set seating to multiple dining venues and flexible scheduling

In the early days of cruising, all passengers ate in one large dining room at assigned tables during either an early time slot or a later one.  As cruising progressed, the lines added buffets and specialty restaurants to give cruisers a more casual option outside of the main dining room. Today, main dining rooms are only a small part of the dining equation on any cruise ship. Most ships have multiple dining venues –some included in the cruise price and some for an extra fee, with flexible schedules that allow passengers to pick what time they want to eat, rather than have to show up at a set time. (Traditional set seating is still available on most cruise lines, as well, for those who prefer the traditional set up.)

5. From a trunk full of ball gowns and tuxedos to carry-ons packed with sundresses and collared shirts

Not only was the dining system formalized on cruises back in the day, but so was the dress code.  Cruisers were required to change for dinner every night and formal night wasn’t just a suggestion. Today, cruise passengers can choose to dress up if they like or remain casual (even on formal night!), with some lines even OK with shorts and T-shirts in most onboard eateries. Whatever you feel most comfortable in is pretty much OK with most mainstream cruise lines nowadays.

6. From American and continental cuisine to a smorgasbord of tastes

With just one restaurant (two if a ship had a buffet), cruise ship chefs tended to keep meals simple and straightforward with tried-and-true American, Italian, British and French dishes on the menu. But as the lines expanded their culinary offerings to include more dining venues, the options to provide a variety of cuisines increased as well. Today’s ships might offer Brazilian, Indian, Mexican, pan-Asian or sushi restaurants, to name just a few.

7. From balconies only in top suites to all-balcony ships

Once upon a time, cruise balconies were only for the elite, with most cruise ships having just a handful of suites offering the alfresco amenity. Today’s cruise ships (at least those that are over 10 years old) offer way more rooms with balconies than without. Some ships, particularly in the luxury segment don’t even have ships without balconies.  All of Viking Ocean Cruises’ ships, for instance, are all-balcony, as are most Regent Seven Seas ships.

8. From Isaac on the Love Boat serving margaritas to robots and trained mixologists

Sure you can still get a frozen margarita or Long Island Ice Tea (though good luck finding a Pink Lady or Harvey Wallbanger), but today’s menu of libations is vastly expanded from what bartenders back in the day were handing out. From trained mixologists whipping up unique cocktails to match your mood to bars that specialize in just one beverage (whisky, beer, rum, tequila) there’s something to suit the tastes of every cruise drinker. Oh, and one bar — the Bionic Bar on select Royal Caribbean ships — doesn’t even have a bartender; instead drinks are served by robotic arms backlit by neon lights, which stop to dance along to the beat-heavy music every now and then.

9. From cut off from the world to as connected as you want to be

Like airplanes, getting on a cruise ship used to mean going without contact with your friends and family back home for the length of your trip. That’s no longer even remotely the case, with just about every big ship having front-to-back Wi-Fi and packages that are reasonably priced. As examples, Royal Caribbean’s super fast Voom Wi-Fi starts at $12.99 per day, per device, for everything but streaming, while on Carnival Cruise Line, cruisers can purchase social packages for $5 a day that provide access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social sites. More robust packages cost $16 or $25 per day, with the latter including the ability to stream.  So instead of having to send a postcard from Puerto Vallarta, today you just ‘Gram your selfie from wherever you are — even on the ship.

Mississippi Delta

I recently took 44 Mississippi Gulf Coast residents to the Mississippi Delta.  Many people when the word “Mississippi Delta” is mentioned wonder why you would want to go there.

But there is so much to see and do in the Mississippi Delta.  There is so much music and great food and then there are the wonderful museums in the region.

The Grammy Museum in Cleveland is a must for anyone who is traveling to the Delta. There is a new Taylor Swift exhibit there which will be at the Museum thorough August of this year.  While I am not a huge Taylor Swift fan I thought the ten minute video showing all the awards and some of her major songs was really well done. Then there is an entire room where you learn so much about the Grammy award winner.

One of the highlights for me at the museum is the soundstage that shows all of the Grammy winners.  It is about a twenty minute film and I watched it twice this time at the museum.  There is country, gospel, rock and rap represented.  It is so well done.  You see several seconds of some of the major artist of our time.

In addition you have the chance to play musical instruments at the museum but no one but you will hear how it sounds. This is something that even those who do not play an instrument will find interesting.  The cost to get into the museum is only ten dollars and it is worth every penny.  The museum is open year round.

Another place to visit in the Delta is the Delta Blues Museum located on Highway 61 in Leland, Ms.  There you will find a wide variety of articles and posters showing the major blues artist of our time. If you are lucky you might find Pat Thomas singing to the visitors to the museum.   His dad Son Thomas was one of the most popular blues singer to come out of Leland, Mississippi.  He will entertain you with his singing as well as draw a cat caricature for you.

The cost to get into the museum is only six dollars so it is quite a bargin.  The museum is open every day and the two times I have been there you rarely see anyone there.  It is a hidden gem in the Delta.

Another small museum in the Delta is the Jim Henson museun in Leland.  There you will learn how Jim Henson was inspired about his surroundings to design the various muppet characters.  You can have your picture taken with Miss Piggy and many other Muffets. There is no charge to visit this museum but a donation is accepted.

If you want to see where the blues began in the Delta then head out to Dockery Farms just a few miles outside Cleveland.  At one time it was a thriving plantation with hundreds of workers.  After work many of the planation workers would love to play where is known to us as the Blues.   So over time historians say this is where the Blues really started in the Delta.  There are a few buildings still standings and they are located right off the road.  There are a few buttons to push on some of the buildings which tells the story of how Blues started on the plantation.

It is rustic but authenic and something that I like to see when I travel.

At a later time I will add some of the wonderful restaurants we had a chance to visit.




Demand for airfare to Cuba has slowed

Regularly scheduled passenger jet service to Cuba had been cut off for more than 50 years. Americans who wanted to go there had to go through third countries or take expensive charter flights that were notorious for long delays and steep baggage fees.

President Barack Obama renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, and then brought back commercial airline travel last year. The companies that were authorized by the Department of Transportation booked routes not just to Havana, but also to less traveled cities such as Manzanillo and Holguín. With no history of commercial airline traffic to judge by, the airlines were largely guessing how many United States citizens and Cubans would line up for tickets.

United Airlines has service from Newark and Houston, and Alaska Airlines flies to Havana from Los Angeles. Delta offers three daily flights to Havana from Atlanta, Miami and Kennedy International Airport in New York. Destinations like Santa Clara proved to be less popular than the airlines had hoped, and some were forced to scale back.

“We started pretty big in Cuba,” said Laura Masvidal, a spokeswoman for American Airlines. “We made some adjustments to adjust to the market demand.”

Until February, American Airlines offered 1,920 seats a day to Cuba. The number dropped last month to 1,472, a nearly 25 percent reduction. The airline cut flights to Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily flight from two, Ms. Masvidal said.

JetBlue Airways, which on Aug. 31 was the first to fly to Cuba, still offers nearly 50 weekly round-trip flights between the United States and four Cuban cities, but the airline recently switched to smaller planes.

“We have made some adjustment to aircraft types assigned to the routes, which is common as we constantly evaluate how to best utilize our aircraft fleet within our network,” said Doug McGraw, an airline spokesman.

Silver Airways has been flying 22 flights a week with smaller aircraft to nine Cuban destinations other than the capital, including Santa Clara, Holguín and Cayo Coco. Demand, Ms. Pinson said, was depressed by complications with online travel agency distribution and code-share agreements that still have not been resolved. The airline had already tried reducing its offerings.

The airline’s decision comes even as passenger traffic to Cuba is actually increasing at a brisk pace.

“The market is exploding,” said Chad Olin, the president of Cuba Candela, which specializes in booking trips to Cuba for the millennial traveler. “There is some demand adjustment happening as well, but net outcome is still one of the fastest growing markets in global tourism history.”

Mr. Olin said restaurants, bars and private home rentals are now much more crowded with Americans than even just a few months ago. “You hear American English spoken everywhere,” he said in an email.

And to hear the Cuban government media tell it, Americans interested in visiting Cuba were triggered by a message that told everyone to “travel now.”

The number of Americans who visited Cuba was up 125 percent in January, compared with the same month last year, the government reported, calling it a “virtual stampede.” Americans, the report said, were prompted by President Trump’s administration calling for a total review of the Cuba policies enacted by Mr. Obama.

Under the administration of George W. Bush, Cuban-Americans were limited to how often they could visit their families, so that niche also had a 38 percent increase, the Cuban media report said.

But it was still not enough to fill the flights.

“I think that a lot of airlines thought that there would be more demand than there is,” said Paul Berry, a spokesman for Spirit airlines, which flies twice a day to Havana from Fort Lauderdale. “Loads are not very heavy.”

Mr. Berry said there are still glitches, including not being able to easily use American credit cards. Cuban hotels are pricey, and some travelers are turned off by the extra costs for things like required traveler’s medical insurance and visas. The landing fees alone, Mr. Berry said, are sometimes more expensive than the actual airfare.

American citizens are still required to report which of the 12 authorized types of travel they are undertaking, which could also be limiting the number of potential passengers, he said. Religious and educational trips are allowed, but tanning on the beach is not. Many Americans are “not willing to flat-out lie” about why they are going, Mr. Berry said.

“A lot of people are not traveling; I think that’s why you see other airlines scale back,” he said. “There’s just not as much demand to go around.”

What to do if your plane is delayed or cancelled


(this is from a post on Wendy Herrin travel site)

We all know what it means when winter storms are on their way: delays, cancellations, long lines, and changed plans. But it doesn’t have to mean stress. Here are the steps you can take—and the tools you need in your arsenal—to prepare for anything the snow can throw at you this season. Safe travels!

Change your flight.
The simplest way to avoid the hassle of a storm is to avoid the storm altogether. So if you don’t have to travel when a blizzard is on the way—don’t. When big storms are expected, airlines will often take preemptive action and allow you to change your flight without fees. Check your airlines website or Twitter feed to find out more. If do you have to travel, consider rerouting your flight to avoid the storm altogether—look for hubs that won’t have bad weather.

Use the right technology.
Speaking of Twitter, watch your airline’s feed closely for info on flight changes or cancellations. Another option is to download the airline’s app, which will also keep you updated about last-minute things like gate changes or flight delays.

Other apps that come in handy during bad weather include, which can alert to you delays or weather cancellations (sometimes more efficiently than the airline will), and LoungeBuddy, which will help you find pay-by-day airport lounges so you can relax a little while you wait for your flight. We’ve got a full list of problem-solving apps here, and more info on airport lounge day passes here.

Use the right humans.
Even with all the right apps, you might still need to talk to a real person to solve your travel snafu. A great way to avoid long hold times is to call an airline’s customer-service office in a different country (here’s more on how to never wait on hold with airline customer service again). Your credit card concierge can usually be of help as well, but you can also call in the experts and let them handle it for you: Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge specializes in emergency air travel assistance, and his team is well prepped for messy weekends like this one.

Prep the kids.
If you have kids, and there’s a possibility you’ll be stuck in an airport (or on the tarmac) for a while, you might want to try some of these tricks for flying with toddlers contributing editor Brook Wilkinson. One of her secrets is to bring a bunch of new, very cheap toys to keep her son occupied. “Scour the library book sales and Target $1 bins for inexpensive options,” she writes. “Some of my favorites: play dough, pipe cleaners, magnetic playsets, and reusable sticker pads. On one flight, a pack of small monster trucks entertained Zeke for a good 30 minutes. Just make sure that you liberate toys from their plastic clamshell packaging at home, while you still have access to scissors!”

Do what you have to do to avoid as much stress as possible.
Business travel expert Joe Brancatelli once told me his three most sanity-saving travel tips, and this was one of them: “Even if it costs you a few bucks, do whatever you have to do to fix a travel problem on the spot so you can go back to enjoying your trip. Argue with the travel company about compensation later. But, within reason, fix the problem first, worry about compensation later.”