Norwegian Cruise Line Adds Life Guards

Norwegian Cruise Line has become the latest cruise line to add lifeguards to its pools.

According to a statement from the line provided to Travel Agent, the line will add certified lifeguards to all of the family pools across its fleet starting this summer with its four largest ships: Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Epic. Lifeguards will roll out to the remainder of the fleet by early 2018.

The lifeguards will be trained and certified by the American Red Cross and will monitor the family pools during scheduled pool hours, Norwegian said.

Norwegian has stationed pool monitors on its largest ships since 2015, said Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO Andy Stuart in a written release. The addition of lifeguards aims to further increase safety for young travelers.

In addition to uniformed lifeguards, Norwegian will also begin offering complimentary swim vests for both adults and children on the line’s four largest ships, the cruise line said. Parents can obtain the safety vests at the towel station on the ship’s pool deck during daytime hours.

The move makes Norwegian the latest cruise line to add lifeguards to its fleet this year. In February Royal Caribbean International announced that it would add certified lifeguards at all pools across its fleet. That rollout started in March, and is expected to be available fleetwide by this June.

Travel agents welcomed the move by Royal Caribbean.

“The addition of lifeguards on Royal Caribbean’s ships is a positive move,” Peggy Rosenthal, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream VacationsBella Vista, AR, told cruise editor Susan J. Young at the time. “As a former lifeguard, I respect the water and support moves to improve water safety.”

Disney Cruise Line also added lifeguards to its pools in 2013 after a child nearly drowned.

 

Oxford, Ms

 

(This article was recently published in the Washington Post)

OXFORD, Mississippi — Many travelers find their way to Oxford, Mississippi, as fans of novelist William Faulkner.

But there’s much more to do in Oxford than visiting Faulkner’s home and grave. A wooded trail leads from his house to the University of Mississippi campus, aka Ole Miss. There you’ll find statues marking separate chapters of Southern history: one of a Confederate soldier, the other of African-American James Meredith, whose integration of the school sparked riots in 1962.

Other stops in Oxford include award-winning restaurants and a bookstore, Square Books, with a well-curated selection about the region. Lodging options include the Graduate, a sleek, fun and funky boutique hotel where card keys bear pictures of famous Ole Miss alumni like quarterback Eli Manning.

ROWAN OAK

Faulkner bought the home and grounds he called Rowan Oak in 1930. He lived there with his family until his death in 1962. Don’t miss the room where he wrote a plot outline on the wall. Also on display are empty liquor bottles, with a card under a bottle of Four Roses bourbon explaining that Faulkner was “a notorious binge drinker” who favored “inexpensive and readily available” booze. It’s also not unusual to find liquor bottles left by fans at his grave at St. Peter’s Cemetery.

Exhibits of photos and articles about his life and work include quotes that will inspire and resonate with anyone who’s ever agonized over the written word. “The writer’s got to be demon-driven. He’s got to have to write, he don’t know why, and sometimes he will wish that he didn’t have to, but he does,” reads one. In a speech he gave after winning the Nobel Prize for literature, he said: “The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” Of his Southern settings, including his famed fictional county, Yoknapatawpha, he said, “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.”

The property includes a stable, barn and gardens. You can walk from Rowan Oak through Bailey’s Woods to the Ole Miss campus, where an annual Faulkner conference is scheduled this year for July 23-27.

OLE MISS

Founded in 1848, the University of Mississippi campus was spared when Union troops burned Oxford during the Civil War in 1864. In 2008, the university hosted the first presidential debate ever held in Mississippi, between Barack Obama and John McCain.

But its biggest headlines were made in 1962 when riots broke out over the enrollment of the university’s first African-American student, James Meredith. A marker of the violence has been preserved in the form of a hole where a bullet hit the Lyceum, the oldest building on campus. A workman who tried to fill the hollowed-out hole above the Lyceum door during a remodeling was told to leave it, according to Andy Mullins, an expert on Ole Miss history. “We want to keep it for historical purposes to make sure we’re reminded of our dark past,” said Mullins. About 13 percent of students at the university’s four campuses are now African-American.

A statue of a Confederate soldier near the Lyceum once served as a rallying point for segregationists. A sculpture of Meredith can be found on the other side of the building, with engravings of the words courage, perseverance, opportunity and knowledge. Headlines about intolerance were made again in 2014 when a noose was found on the Meredith statue.

“The past is never dead,” Faulkner wrote. “It’s not even past.”

GOOD EATS, GOOD BOOKS

Make time for as many meals as you can because Oxford has great dining options. Chef John Currence owns a group of restaurants here, including his flagship James Beard Award winner, City Grocery, and a fantastic cafe in a strip mall, Big Bad Breakfast.

The chef at Snackbar, Vishwesh Bhatt, also got a nod from the Beards. He’s a native of India who channels his culinary heritage into dishes like chai-spice smoked duck breast and winter squash biryani.

Saint Leo, an Italian restaurant with a hipster vibe owned by Emily Blount, was named a James Beard semifinalist this year. Gus’s Fried Chicken is a chain, but the Oxford outlet is as good a place as any to try its perfect fried chicken.

 

 

 

What’s New on Cruise Ships

Do You Need Travel Insurance

 

(This article was recently posted on Wendy Perrin’s travel blog.)

 

With any luck, most of us will go our entire lives without needing travel insurance. But if we relied on luck to guide all of our financial decisions, we’d be buying lottery tickets instead of contributing to our 401(k)s.

Travel insurance can be confusing—which is why Wendy has received countless questions about it from readers. So we’ve created this primer that lays out the basics of travel insurance, including when you need it—and when you don’t.

What is travel insurance anyway?

Essentially, travel insurance serves two purposes, both financial. The first is to protect the investment you’ve already made—the cost of your trip—in the event that you need to cancel. The second is to cover future potential costs—the medical bills that could arise should you get sick or injured during your trip. But purchasing travel insurance isn’t just an economic decision; it’s also about attaining peace of mind about things that could derail your travels.

What does travel insurance cover?

Travel insurance policies cover some or all of the following (those that include all of these elements are called “comprehensive”):

  • Trip cancellation or interruption
  • Medical expenses, and sometimes evacuation (transportation to an appropriate medical facility)
  • Expenses related to a trip delay and lost, stolen, damaged, or delayed baggage
  • A lump-sum payment if you’re injured or killed while traveling
  • Emergency assistance

A policy kicks in only if your situation fits within its specific conditions (those are the pages of fine print at the back of every policy). You can’t, for instance, get your money back if you decide to cancel because your cousin dies; that’s because most policies cover cancellation due to the death of only certain family members (excluding cousins). Another example: You can’t get your medical bills paid if an ongoing heart issue requires attention while you’re traveling—unless you’ve bought a policy that covers pre-existing conditions.

Here are three examples of how travel insurance can help. These are scenarios that a traveler might run into—and ways in which the right travel insurance policy could protect the traveler in each scenario; remember that every policy’s benefits are different:

Beth is headed to the Caribbean during hurricane season, since she knows that prices are lower at that time of year and that the chance of a storm hitting any particular island is low. But a week before she leaves, Hurricane Peter wreaks havoc at her beachfront resort.
Since she purchased an insurance policy with trip-cancellation coverage before the storm was named and her hotel is now uninhabitable, she can cancel the trip and get all of her money back.

Halfway through a hiking trip in the Alps, Joe slips and falls, breaking his ankle.
His travel insurance policy has a medical expense limit of $10,000, so it covers some but not all of his medical bills. Because he can’t continue with his trip, his trip-interruption benefit reimburses him for the unused portion of his prepaid expenses.

While Amy is walking from the train station to her hotel, a thief steals her luggage.
Her insurance covers the value of the items in her luggage, up to her benefit limit of $750. Too bad she didn’t leave that diamond necklace at home, though; her policy will only reimburse up to $500 total for jewelry and electronics.

Do I really need travel insurance?

It depends on how you’re paying for your trip. Have you reserved rooms at hotels that let you cancel up to 24 hours before check-in, and rented a car that you don’t have to pay for until you show up at the counter? In that case, don’t bother with insurance, since you’re not out of pocket for many expenses.

Or have you pre-paid for most of the pricey elements of your trip—hotels, guides, transportation—which often means that your payments are nonrefundable? If so, you’re an excellent candidate for travel insurance.

Don’t I already have insurance?

You might. Some—but not all—medical plans, homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies, and credit cards offer benefits to travelers. But Medicare, for instance, doesn’t cover members when they are overseas (though some Medigap plans do), and most health plans won’t cover evacuation (meaning, transportation to an adequate medical facility), which can be expensive if you’re somewhere remote. Check with your insurers to see what’s included.

Some premium credit cards include a level of protection. This coverage probably isn’t alone worth the card’s annual fee, but if you already have such a card, you should know what benefits it offers so that you don’t pay for redundant coverage. For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred—one of Wendy’s favorite credit cards for travelers—has some good insurance benefits, but with set limits (so, for instance, you can get back only up to $10,000 per traveler if you have to cancel a trip you paid for with the card—even if the trip cost you $15,000 per person).

Some travel firms and tour operators also include certain insurance coverage in all of their trips. Don’t waste your money buying coverage that’s already built into the cost of your trip. However, don’t assume that this coverage is comprehensive; depending on your circumstances, you might want to buy an additional policy.

How much does travel insurance cost?

It costs about four to eight percent of your total trip cost, according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association. So if you and your spouse are spending $20,000 total on an African safari, expect to pay $400 to $800 per person for travel insurance.

Each premium is calculated based on the length and cost of the trip, where you’re going, and how old you are. For travelers above age 50, policies get significantly more expensive, while children can often be added to a parent’s plan for free. (Some Travel Guard plans, for example, cover all children under 18; Travelex includes one child under 21 years old for free with every covered adult family member.)

When should I buy travel insurance?

Purchase your policy as soon as you put down a deposit toward your trip, but only cover whatever amount is nonrefundable; you can adjust the policy with each subsequent payment for your trip.

My travel agent recommends that I purchase a policy through a specific insurer; should I follow her advice?

Some travel agents, tour companies, and outfitters have relationships with a particular insurance provider. They might push you to buy a certain type of insurance because they’ll earn a commission; on the other hand, their relationship with that insurer could benefit you if you have to file a claim. Wendy has seen many cases where Trusted Travel Experts on her WOW List, thanks to their relationship with a particular insurer, have been able to act as advocates for their clients and get their claims paid.

Should I cover the cost of my flights too?

That depends. If you have to cancel your trip, you can usually put the cost of any unused airline tickets toward a future flight, minus a change fee. Calculate how much your premium will increase if you insure your flights; if the difference is less than the airline’s change fee, it’s worth insuring the flights. (You might also want to insure flights on any local carrier that you aren’t likely to fly with again—in which case a credit toward future travel would be worthless.)

What does it mean if a travel medical insurance plan is primary or secondary?

“Primary” means that the plan pays any bills first, without having to go through your home health insurance provider; “secondary” means the plan will only cover whatever you owe after you’ve filed a claim with your health insurance provider. You’ll typically get a bit more coverage per dollar with a secondary plan—but you’ll have to deal with more paperwork if you file a claim.

I have a medical condition; will expenses related to it be covered?

Not unless you pay for a waiver that covers pre-existing medical conditions. This coverage—which will add to your premium—is only available if you purchase insurance soon after making the first payment on your trip (generally within 14 to 21 days of that initial deposit). You also usually have to insure the entire nonrefundable cost of your trip, including flights. Without coverage for pre-existing conditions, you’re on the hook for any expenses related to a condition that wasn’t medically stable at the time you booked.

What if I’m hurt doing an adventure activity (say, bungee jumping)?

Most policies won’t cover injuries you receive while taking part in certain “hazardous activities”—a category that can include everything from skydiving and rock climbing to scuba diving and heli-skiing. Some plans will allow you to pay a higher premium to cover these activities. (Dive Accident Insurance from the Divers Alert Network, for instance, covers most bills related to scuba-diving accidents.)

Will insurance pay for me to come home if I get sick or injured on the road?

Not usually. Most policies will pay for transportation to the nearest adequate medical facility (known as evacuation)—but that could be thousands of miles from your loved ones and the doctors you trust. If you want to know that you can get home, you’ll need to purchase additional coverage from a company such as MedjetAssist: Once you become a member by paying an annual fee, Medjet will arrange and pay for transportation back to your hospital of choice, anytime you are hospitalized more than 150 miles from home. Full disclosure: Medjet is a sponsor of WendyPerrin.com. But they’re a sponsor specifically because Wendy believes in and uses their service herself.

Can I call off my trip for any reason and be reimbursed?

No. Each policy defines the allowable reasons for which you can cancel and get your money back. To cancel your trip because of a terrorist attack, for instance, the attack typically has to happen in a city listed on your itinerary—not just anywhere in the country you’re visiting.

You can purchase additional “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) coverage, but it’s pricey, and even then, you’ll generally only be reimbursed 50% to 75% of your trip cost. As with pre-existing condition benefits, you usually have to purchase CFAR coverage soon after your initial trip deposit, and you have to insure the total cost of the trip.

Which policy should I buy?

It would be so easy if one size fit all—but it doesn’t. To know which policy is right for you, think about what keeps you up at night. Are you most concerned about a sudden flare-up of that nagging knee injury? Or about not making it home for a relative’s funeral? Or having to miss your bucket-list cruise because your boss needs you in a meeting? Or deciding to cancel your trip because of a terrorist attack at your destination?

Websites such as insuremytrip.com, squaremouth.com, and travelinsurance.com allow you to input your details and compare multiple policies at once, narrowing in on which one is right for you. If there’s a specific reason you’re considering travel insurance, get on the phone with any potential insurer and ask how their policies would work, should the hypothetical situation you’re concerned about actually occur.

Here are four common travel scenarios. Using the websites listed above for our research, we’ve highlighted an insurance policy that would work well in each case. (Note: When you’re ready to purchase your own policy, be sure to confirm any coverage details below, as they may change.)

A family of four from New York (two parents aged 40, plus kids ages six and eight) are headed on a Caribbean cruise.
RoamRight’s Preferred policy is the least expensive option with the most generous coverage: For $134 total, they get 100% of their trip cost covered if they have to cancel their trip, and 150% of the cost covered if the trip is interrupted. A financial default clause kicks in 14 days after they purchase the policy, in case their cruise line goes bust. And they get $50,000 per person of medical coverage, $500,000 per person for a medical evacuation, and $100,000 for a non-medical evacuation.

A 50-year-old Californian wants to take a bike tour of Italy, but she’s worried because her mother is sick.
Here, Global Alert’s Preferred policy is probably the right choice because it will give the traveler a refund if she cancels or interrupts her trip because her mother’s condition worsens significantly after the policy is purchased. While the policy only covers 100% of the trip cost if it’s interrupted (some similarly priced plans cover 150%), it has more generous medical benefits, including $250,000 in medical coverage, and the bills from a bike accident can add up. This policy costs $255.

A 65-year-old couple from Florida has booked a $20,000 safari; one of them has a pre-existing condition.
Global Alert’s Preferred policy is again probably a good choice. The travelers should buy it within 14 days of making their first trip payment; that way, medical expenses related to their preexisting condition will be covered, up to $250,000 per person (higher than more expensive plans, even), with an identical limit for a medical evacuation. The premium for this policy is $990 total.

A married couple in Illinois, both 35 and high-powered executives, have booked ten days of R&R in the Maldives costing $15,000. Their health insurance will cover them while abroad, but they’re worried that something could come up at work that will force them to cancel the trip.
These travelers should consider either iTravelInsured’s Travel Lite plan or AXA Assistance USA’s Silver plan (with the optional “cancellation for work reasons” coverage, which must be purchased within 14 days of their initial trip payment); both will cover them for the entire trip cost, should an employer require them to stay home. The policies cost $534 and $538, respectively. (One advantage of AXA’s policy is that it provides $25,000 per person in primary medical coverage, so they wouldn’t have to bother filing a claim with their home health insurance company.)

Viking Ocean Cruises Orders Two New Ships

Viking Ocean Cruises is continuing its run of expansion with an order for two new cruise ships, set to be delivered in 2021 and 2022.

The order is part of a memorandum of agreement the cruise line just signed with Fincantieri. The memo also includes an option for two additional cruise ships.

The new ships will be the same size as the current three ships in the line’s ocean fleet: Viking Sea, Viking Star and Viking Sky, which just made its debut in February. The new ships will have a capacity of 930 passengers in 465 all-balcony cabins, and will be the same design as the line’s current ocean ships.

Designed by the same team responsible for Viking’s fleet of river-going Viking Longships, Viking’s ocean ships incorporate details that pay homage to its Nordic heritage. A glass-backed infinity pool cantilevered off the stern offers unobstructed views; indoor-outdoor spaces offer options for al fresco dining; huge windows and skylights let in light; and a wrap-around promenade deck is available for strolling. Dining options range from the World Café, which serves global cuisine with live cooking and open kitchens; to Mamsen’s Norwegian-style deli. The Chef’s Table celebrates cuisines from around the world with multi-course tasting menus and wine parings; and Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant serves Tuscan and Roman cuisine. With the Kitchen Table experience, guests have an opportunity to shop, cook and eat with the Executive Chef.

The announcement follows a run of recent expansion for the cruise line. In addition to the February launch of Viking Sky, Viking Ocean Cruises is set to launch its fourth ship, Viking Sun, this November. On the river side, Viking River Cruises just christened two new Longships, Viking Herja and Viking Hild, in Koblenz, Germany, last month. Also coming up for the river cruise line is new cruises on the Nile set for 2018 onboard the Viking Ra.

In terms of onboard experiences, the line just launched a new Viking Resident Historian program onboard the Viking Star, Viking Sea and Viking Sky, aimed at providing guests with an onboard educational experience tailored to their itinerary.

Does your Insurance Cover You Overseas?

Many Americans remain unclear about the cost of medical care while traveling, according to a new study from InsureMyTrip Research Center.

In a 2017 survey, 35 percent of respondents sure whether their domestic health insurance plan would cover any doctor or hospital visits while traveling out of the country. 35 percent said it would provide coverage, while 30 percent believed their domestic health insurance plan would offer no coverage.

According to InsureMyTrip, large insurance providers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Cigna and Aetna may provide emergency and urgent care coverage abroad. However, the definition of emergency varies. Medicare will rarely pay for inpatient hospital, doctor, or ambulance services travelers get in a foreign country.

Travelers can request clarification of coverage prior to departure. Here’s how:

  1. Call your medical insurance provider
  2. Ask to review your certificate of coverage for explanation of benefits
  3. Ask for hospitals and doctors in area of

According to the U.S. State Department, very few health insurance companies will pay for a medical evacuation back to the United States, which can easily cost up to $100,000, or even more, depending on a travelers’ condition and location.

In addition to seeking proper medical protection, travelers can also reduce health risks by learning about destination-specific medical concerns, including required vaccinations, InsureMyTrip said. The U.S. State Department is a helpful resource. The U.S. Federal Consumer Action Handbook also provides travel insurance recommendations for travelers.

The survey was conducted online among 500 respondents in the U.S. All respondents either researched or purchased travel insurance within the past 12 months.

How to Pack for a Cruise When Flying

(This article was recently posted in Travel Plus)

Packing for a cruise is not as easy as it once was. Mostly because of airline restrictions on bags, gone are the days of bringing multiple suitcases coming or going weighing more than 50 pounds, unless of course, you are traveling from a homeport without the need to fly to embark the ship. So, for now, let’s look at packing tips requiring airfare before and after a sailing.

BAG QUANTITY AND WEIGHT

Before considering anything else, it’s most crucial to check with your airline to see what limits apply to you in regards to how many suitcases you can take, at least for free if at all, and what weight restrictions are in place for each. Some airlines are more lenient on first bag fees than others, and loyalty levels will get you the furthest with extra free luggage and even weight limits closer to 75 pounds.

Also, consider buying a small looping bag scale to ensure you’re always within the numbers. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’re over at the airport. If you do happen to have the chance to bring more than one bag, consider packing an empty duffel for any non-fragile souvenirs to bring with you on your return too.

DRESS CODES

As far as outfits are concerned, you’ll want to consider the dress codes of your specific cruise line next. Fewer expect formal wear than in the past, but some still expect it. If you’d rather not bring suits and cocktail dresses, most brands offer casual dining options on the very few evenings when formal is the designation.

OUTFITS

If you are keen to bring the greatest variety of outfits as possible to be well prepared for any event, you can wear the same base formal clothing, for instance, while changing up the accessories such as ties, scarves and jewelry the next time.

For daily casual options, my wife recommends a mix-and-match wardrobe in which all tops work with all bottoms. As far as weight distribution is concerned, also be mindful of packing heavier items such as shoes in a carry-on versus a checked bag.

LAUNDRY

It’s fairly easy to pack enough clothes for a weeklong cruise in a single suitcase. Once voyages get longer, however, laundry starts to become necessary. When cruises exceed seven days, consider still packing only a week’s worth of clothes and then plan to either self-launder or pay for full-service cleaning. Some cruise lines occasionally offer a special flat rate for stuffing a single laundry bag with clothes, which is a much better value than a la carte pricing.

PLASTIC BAGS

A helpful thing to bring that does not take up any more room or weight are plastic bags — trash or resealable ones.

For any laundry that is left upon your return home, trash bags are ideal to keep them separate from any remaining clean clothes. Also, resealable bags are great to take anything that might leak such as sunscreen as well as for to bring home any wet items such as swimwear that did not have a chance to dry before flying again.

Additionally, they can be a great way to protect delicate electronics from moisture on shoreside beach outings or in inclement weather.

FRAGILE ITEMS

If ever you have any fragile items, it’s always best to pack them in a carry-on, but if you have something such as a bottle of wine, liquid restrictions require that they are checked. The best-case scenario would be to ship such items home, but if you must have them with you, keep them as far away from the edges and sides of the suitcase as possible and pad them to the center with plenty of shock-absorbing clothes. Just be sure to also put them first in a sealable plastic bag to avoid unintended merlot colored T-shirts upon arrival.

———

Travel to India

In a written release, Phil Cappelli, president of Luxury Gold Vacations, said “India is an exciting and beautiful country, but it can be perceived as intimidating for first-time travelers.” To help ensure a hassle-free and smooth journey, Cappelli complied a list of tips for first-time travelers to India:

1. Pick the perfect route

India packs a lot into a massive space – be careful not to overdo it by trying to see too much in one trip. Cappelli says the most common complaint reported by first time visitors is fatigue from trying to do too much. Pick a trip according to what interests you, what you like doing, and how much time you have. Luxury Gold has more than eight curated experiences to choose from, of various lengths and covering different regions.

2. Escape the crowds

With a population of over one billion people, many parts of India are crowded and personal space is especially hard to come by. While some travelers find it energizing to be immersed in crowds, others may find themselves disarmed by the stares and personal questions that come with the territory. It’s important to remember that this is simply part of Indian culture, and merely indicative of the locals’ polite interest in you. If you feel the need to relax and recharge in the city, you can always retreat to the calm of your amazing hotel for a breather. Or head out to someplace rural or off the beaten path. Luxury Gold offers experiences that cater to urban adventurers, lovers of wide-open spaces, and those who want to experience the best of both worlds.

3. Stay healthy

India may have different microbes and a different level of sanitation than you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean you will get sick. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated (make sure it’s bottled and not from the tap); steer clear of ice, fruit if you haven’t peeled it yourself, and any food that has been washed in tap water; bring your own toilet paper when using public restrooms; keep anti-bacterial wipes or gel in your day bag. Indian food may also be more rich and intense than you’re accustomed to, so ease into the cuisine slowly.

4. Respect local customers

Indians are forgiving of those who aren’t familiar with their culture, but you can quickly make a good impression by learning the ropes before you go. For example, remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, cover your arms and legs (and head, if necessary) when visiting a religious site, don’t touch things with your feet, and don’t eat or pass objects with your left hand. If you’re unsure of local customs, Luxury Gold’s Traveling Concierges are on hand 24/7 to share knowledge, advice, and give practical assistance.

5.  Indian time is relative 

India operates on its own timetable; this may frustrate the traveler who comes from a culture of punctuality. Many shops do not open until 10:00 a.m., and many government offices close in the afternoon for lunch. Traffic and other interruptions can also mean that getting around can take a lot longer than expected. The key is to be prepared for it, and accept it all as part of India’s charm. Build in plenty of time for unexpected waits, and make sure to check opening hours.

Traveling to Patagonia

This story was recently posted in the Washington Post.  I have also traveled to Patagonia and while I did not do any major hikes I went to many of the same places this man went.

Patagonia is a beautiful area to visit.  The glaciers in that part of the world are even more beautiful than the ones you see in Alaska.

Torres dep Paine is a wonderful thing to see.  When we returned from there several years ago…it was featured on the front cover of National Geographic.

 

Who: Henry Egghart of Alexandria, Va.

Where, when, why: I trekked through Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile, for a week in late February. I went with Backabush Xplorers, a meetup hiking group and travel company based in London. I had always wanted to travel to Patagonia, but it seemed so remote and adventurous. But when a group I had met while working in London was going there, I jumped at the chance to join them.

Flying from Dulles International Airport to Punta Arenas, Chile, took a long time because of the layovers. There are buses from Presidente Carlos Ibanez del Campo International Airport to Puerto Natales, the gateway town to the park, 3 1 /2 hours away. It has a frontier feeling, with weathered one- and two-story houses and free-roaming dogs. There are numerous hostels, hotels, restaurants and camping gear shops.

After buying food in a well-stocked supermarket, we caught an early morning bus for the three-hour ride to the park. Near the park, the cattle and sheep grazing in lush pastures gave way to herds of guanacos, a kind of wild llama, and a few rheas — large, flightless, ostrich-like birds. Several buses reached the entrance station together, so a small crowd formed to pay the entrance fee and watch a mandatory video on park rules. The most important one is that fires are not allowed, and cooking stoves are only allowed in designated areas; large areas of the park have been damaged by camper-caused fires. A boat took us across a turquoise-blue lake, past stunning mountains, to the start of the hike.

Highlights and high points: After we had been hiking for more than two hours by headlamp in the early morning darkness to see the first light hit the Torres, it started to rain. I feared there would be no view. But we were so high that the sun rose below the rain clouds, forming a brilliant double rainbow over the Torres and Lago Las Torres National Reserve. It was breathtaking.

Cultural connection or disconnect: I thought Patagonia would be wild, remote and lonely, and much of it is. Torres del Paine, however, is Chile’s crown jewel national park and very popular. Reservations are required for all campsites, camping is allowed only in designated sites next to refugios (mountain huts) and you must show your reservation to be allowed onto the trails. The best viewpoints are marked “miradors,” and a lot of people gather at them. The trails are rough, with frequent large rocks and puddles. On the other hand, the camping areas have warm showers, a perfect treat after a long day of hard hiking.

How unexpected: It surprised me that the glaciers in Patagonia flow down into forested areas, often ending in large lakes where bright-blue icebergs break off and float away. Also, I was impressed by the friendliness and honesty of the Chilean people. I never worried about getting shortchanged or taken advantage of. One time, a 5,000 peso note (about $10) fell out of my pocket, and a young woman ran down the street to return it to me.

Favorite memento or memory: This trip reminded me how beautiful, varied and well worth exploring the world is.

Viking Christens Two New Ships

Last month Viking River Cruises celebrated 20 years and christened its only two new Longships of 2017, the Herja and Hild, in Koblenz, Germany. Travel Agent was at the event with a look at what’s next for the river cruise line.

The new ships will sail the Rhine on a new route, Paris to the Swiss Alps. At the event, as curious Koblenz residents looked on, guests strolled between velvet ropes and down a red carpet to an orchestra playing below the grand equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I at the famous confluence of the Mosel and Rhine rivers. Decorated with white and red balloons, the Herja and Hild were stationed behind a tented podium, as the staff cheered on the celebrations. Regional 2013 Riesling flowed from the estate of Viking Hild godmother, Dr. Princess Stephanie Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, who serves as CEO of Weingut Fürst Löwentein, a family-owned winery in Lower Franconia. Incidentally, her family’s ancestral home, built in 1725, is a Privileged Access stop on a Viking cruise.

The christening festivities continued with music and a four-course dinner within a glass-walled, chandelier-filled, Viking-crafted, pop-up event space on the closest point to the Rhine/Mosel rivers, followed by a surprise nighttime cable car adventure (a first in Koblenz history) toward the hilltop Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, where white-gloved waiters poured magnums of champagne as guests were suspended over the Rhine to watch a fireworks show below.

The christening of two new Longships marks another year of growth for Viking, with a total of 48 Longships to date. The company launched its third ocean ship, Viking Sky, in February and will add a fourth ocean ship, Viking Sun, in November.

We sat down with Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen, who announced more news for Viking River Cruises and added that it will be the first foreign company allowed to have a license to operate ships along the Nile River. The new ship, named Viking Ra, (he decided on the name that day) will begin sailing March 2018.

While Hagen eschews the label of “luxury,” he does admit, “We are understated elegance with great attention to detail” on all the ships. Touting “large bathroom amenity bottles that are easy to open,” he tells the story of the time had to open a shampoo bottle while he was wearing glasses and reading in a hotel shower, then goes on to cite the ship’s “heated tile floors and towel racks, and no-fog bathroom mirrors.” The Hild has large, two-door showers and a daylight-lighted bathroom mirror, which, any woman will tell you, is the greatest invention of late.

As for international upheaval around the globe, Hagen’s response is practical. “The Viking motto is ‘Exploring in comfort,’ and we take safety very, very seriously,” he says.

“We carry a Norwegian flag when we travel worldwide. At the end of the day, I think it is more interesting to see things than to sit home and be afraid,” he adds.

Viking now owns 60 of the docking spaces along the Rhine and its operating destinations include a new river cruise to Ukraine, also scheduled for 2018. “We take great pride in owning and operating our ships. We don’t have partners as we like to be in charge of our own destinations,” Hagen notes.

Hagen is proud of the design and construction of the Longships as they come with more number of cabins —190 versus 160 on other cruise lines. Additionally, Viking has designed a larger, costlier ship with stateroom balconies on one side, suites on the other, a square bow that allows additional cabins, and three decks of usable space, as well as a smart, asymmetrical Viking-patented design. “They always put me in the best suite,” says Hagen about the Explorer Suite, which according to him is the largest of any river cruise suites (and the only one to offer room service breakfast). “But that [ship amenities] wouldn’t work if our Longships weren’t diesel electric drive, which means the aft of the ship is well-insulated and doesn’t vibrate.”

The new Hild doesn’t disappoint. Even though we experienced a fraction of the 12-day Paris to the Swiss Alps tour, it was enough to get a sense Viking’s dedication to service, cuisine and special extras. The Hild’s 39 Veranda staterooms, which Hagen describes as “the largest deluxe staterooms afloat on Europe’s rivers,” have full-sized, private balconies and ample storage space that help in keeping belongings organized and out of sight. The top Sun Deck has a putting green; an organic herb garden, which the chef uses to garnish and flavor dishes; and ample seating space from which guests can watch mountain goats navigate steeply set vineyards, and view castle ruins standing high on the hills or set within the river itself.

As the Hild sailed past the famous Lorelei Rock on the narrowest part of the Rhine, a lecturer regaled us with the history of the sea and the stories of the legendary maiden, while a classical duo played Die Lorelei, arguably one of Germany’s most famous folk songs.

As Torstein Hagen likes to point out, Viking is “the thinking person’s cruise,” with destination exploration being the undisputed highpoint. The rain didn’t stop our walking tour of Mainz, of which there are so many highlights that it’s difficult to single out one highpoint. The Chagall windows at St. Stephen’s Church were glowing amidst the dreary weather, as though sparkling with the knowledge of being the only such windows in the country. A stop at the Gutenberg Museum is an ode to Mainz’s most famous resident, Johanes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press and moveable type and, in the process, changed the world forever. His Gutenberg Bibles, which now number 49 in the world from the original 180, at one time cost as much as a small house. The Gutenberg Bibles are distinguished from the other Bibles by their rich and unique illustrations. Guests can see the bible Mainz’s mayor promised citizens he would bring back from a New York auction, now valued at $20 million. With works of art such as this, the museum’s contents will be appreciated by every bibliophile.

A stop at Worms and a tour of its famous cathedral and the statue of Martin Luther, a seminal figure in Protestant Reformation, led to a delightful moment, as we chanced upon an authentically dressed “Eva,” who introduced herself as the wife of a 1500s bookseller. She, in complete character, delivered a monologue about Luther’s visit and asked us, “Did you see Martin Luther arrive this morning?” and was “selling” his writings.

With its renowned Christmas market, the opulent opera house Napoleon built for his wife Josephine, and 342 miles of bicycle lanes, one excursion in Strasbourg is the optional “Taste the Best of Alsace” walking tour. Stops include a boulangerie, boutique wine and cheese shops, and Christian, a chocolatier opened in 1960 and now a second-generation patisserie salon known for the world’s rarest chocolates (more than 60 from around the globe) — especially pastries and chocolate drinks favored by Marie Antoinette — crafted by a total of 24 chocolate chefs. It is even heavenlier and more decadent than it sounds.

And once again, you’re on the Hild, sailing down the Rhine, watching the ever-changing terrain from floor-to-ceiling windows, chatting with new friends over a glass of Alsace Pinot Noir, nibbling on foie gras the chefs sourced that day at the Strasbourg open-air market, and listening to Hild’s resident composer, pianist, and singer, Cezar, who keeps the music mellow (think Michael Bublé, Elton John, Frank Sinatra) or upbeat (including dance favorites until 5 a.m., after the christening) for passengers who will truly look forward to seeing him every evening.

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