Iceland Tops Tourism Growth

 

(This was recently published in Travel Agent Central)

The strong signs are continuing for Europe’s tourism sector, according to the latest report from the European Travel Commission (ETC).

In the “European Tourism 2017 – Trends & Prospects” study, 28 out of 30 reporting destinations recorded growth so far in 2017, with almost one in two posting double-digit increases. Iceland (+56%) was the fastest growing destination, while Montenegro (+25%), Malta (+23%) and Cyprus (+18%) also say substantial increases. Since these destinations are heavily reliant on peak summer demand, growth outside this period reflects their success in reducing seasonality, the ETC said.

Finland (+18%) and Bulgaria (+17%) also experienced robust growth, according to the report. While the surge in Chinese arrivals boosted growth in the Nordic Nation, Bulgaria seemed to have been an inexpensive alternative to traditional winter destinations. Portugal, Serbia and Croatia (all +15%) fared well helped by strong marketing efforts and improved air connectivity. Turkey (-8%), however, continues to face security challenges that slow the rate of expansion in the country, the ETC said.

Encouraging economic conditions in the Eurozone seem to be behind the growth in arrivals from Germany, France and Italy, according to the report. Meanwhile, most destinations saw notable increases from the UK with Croatia and Bulgaria enjoying the fastest growth, at +40 percent and +26 percent, respectively. All reporting destinations rebounded from previous falls from Russian travel demand. Although figures do not fully offset the falls registered in previous years, prospects remain optimistic as the economy continues to improve. In the U.S., economic growth and favorable air fares contributed to the strong performance of this market, which is expected to increase 6 percent per year on average through 2021. Travel flows from China and Japan to Europe were weaker than overall outbound travel from these markets due to safety and security concerns across the continent. However, both markets are estimated to have increased 14 percent and 5 percent respectively so far in 2017.

“Despite a stable European domestic market, growth is also driven by long-haul source markets,” said Eduardo Santander, executive director of the ETC, in a written release. “Cheap oil prices, favorable currency exchanges, rising middle classes, improved air connectivity and travel facilitation are contributing significantly to the surge of outbound travel to Europe.”

Mistakes You Can Make on a River Cruise

 

(This article was recently posted on Wendy Perrin site. You might want to check out her site as she has some good information)

Contemplating a river trip in Europe? It’s all the rage nowadays, and river cruise lines are racing to introduce new and better ships to meet the insane demand from travelers. A river cruise is a scenic and effortless way to travel, for sure, but take heed: Many of the rules that apply when choosing a hotel or a big ocean cruise ship don’t carry over to river boats. To get the best value for your dollar, here are seven things to keep in mind. (I’ve illustrated these seven things with photos from my trip on the Seine last week, from Paris through Normandy, aboard Avalon Waterways’ new Avalon Tapestry II.)

Mistake No. 1: Splurging on a balcony
You’d probably assume a balcony is critical—for the view, the fresh air, the photo ops, the extra space, the privacy. A balcony is a big plus at a resort and on a huge ocean ship, but on river boats it can actually be a drawback: River ships have a width limit (so that they can fit through locks), which means that cabins can only be so wide, which in turn means that a balcony takes away from your interior room space. If it’s chilly or raining—as it sometimes is—you’ll value the interior room space more than the balcony. Also, a balcony lets you see only one side of a river, whereas elsewhere on the ship you can see both sides at once. And who wants to miss half a river?

This is why many savvy river cruisers opt for a “French balcony” instead of an “outside balcony.” A French balcony is a glass door or wall-to-wall window (here’s an example) that opens to give you fresh air and the feel of a veranda, minus the outside floor, tables, and chairs. The best such pseudo-balcony I’ve seen is on Avalon Waterways’ newer ships. The outside wall of the cabin is floor-to-ceiling glass that stretches 11 feet wide and slides open 7 feet wide. Basically, it turns your whole room into a veranda.

Cabin aboard Avalon Tapestry II

My cabin (#312) aboard Avalon Tapestry II on the Seine River in Normandy.

Avalon calls these cabins “Panorama Suites.” Technically, they’re not actually suites: Each is one room that measures 200 square feet and has a comfy sitting area (a chair, a loveseat, and a table) overlooking the water. The bed faces the view—a bed position that is unusual for river ships and is a nice touch, as the view is the first thing you see when you wake in the morning (unless you’ve drawn the curtains, you’re in a lock, or another ship is parked alongside you—which is a reason why most people do draw their curtains at night).

With cabins that transform into open-air terraces, who needs a balcony?

View from a cabin aboard Avalon Tapestry II

Looking out my window from the other side of the bed.

Mistake No. 2: Assuming that your whole itinerary is on the river
The beauty of a river cruise is that it’s a picturesque and easy way to see towns and cities along a river. Typically, the ship drops you off in town, and you can choose to walk around and explore on your own (always my preference) or take a walking tour or bus tour with a group from the ship. Sometimes passengers are bussed to sights an hour or two (or more) away from the river. And sometimes those bus tours can mean missing whole stretches of the river. On the Seine, for instance, opting for the bus tour to Honfleur or Normandy’s WW2 landing beaches could mean missing a picturesque stretch of the river because the bus picks you up at one port and drops you off at the next. (Which is why, on last week’s cruise, I opted not to go to Honfleur or the landing beaches.)

Riverscape on the Seine

If I’d opted to go with everyone on the bus, I would have missed riverscape like this.

So find out whether the cruise line and itinerary you’re considering may force you to choose between the river itself and the sights away from it—and whether those stretches of river are not-to-be-missed picturesque or okay-to-miss industrial. A good cruise director will answer these questions honestly and accurately, and Google Earth can help too. If the cruise director can’t tell you which stretches of the river are most interesting, do what I do—even though technically it’s not allowed: Knock on the wheelhouse door, befriend the captain, and ask him (at a moment when he’s not busy steering around barges or into locks). Captains always know.

Don’t bother spending precious time attempting to find out where your ship will dock in each town. We choose hotels for their location, of course—so it’s understandable that you’d want to know where a ship will be situated—but, for the most part, they all dock in the same spot. Some ships might have better real estate in certain cities. In Budapest, for instance, Viking’s spot isright under the Chain Bridge. As a general rule, though, all the ships park in pretty much the same area—and, to some degree, where they park can’t be known far ahead anyway. In Passau aboard Viking, we docked in one spot and then later the ship moved several slips downriver.

Parking the Avalon Tapestry II in Paris

Parking the Avalon Tapestry II in Paris

Mistake No. 3: Insisting that your ship have a gym and a pool
I want these in a hotel or on a giant cruise ship as much as the next person, but the fact is, on river ships, you rarely see anyone in the gym (which is tiny and only minimally equipped) or the pool (which is equally tiny except on some Uniworld ships that have gorgeous indoor pools and some AmaWaterways ships that have a relatively spacious pool with a swim-up bar). There just isn’t enough time to use the gym or pool, as you’re off the ship exploring all day. And if you’re not off the ship, chances are either it’s night time or you’re gliding down a significant stretch of river that you won’t want to miss. Cruise-line execs keep gyms and pools on ships as marketing tools to get travelers to choose their ship, but the reality is that you likely won’t end up using either.

Here’s the ship’s gym

Here’s the ship’s gym.

Hot tub on the Avalon Tapestry II

The ship has a hot tub, although I never saw anyone use that either.

Mistake No. 4: Choosing a ship based on the number of passengers
Most people I know, when choosing a hotel or an oceangoing cruise ship, veer away from anything too huge. But on Europe’s rivers there are only two sizes of cruise ship: 110-meter vessels (which hold about 128 passengers each) and 135-meter vessels (which hold about 166 passengers each). Viking’s longships squeeze 190 passengers onto a 135-meter ship, which competing cruise lines say make it feel crowded. Honestly, though, I sailed on a 190-passenger Viking ship and, other than chairs spaced close together in the observation lounge and trouble finding seats for my party of four at dinner one night, the ship didn’t feel crowded to me. (Then again, I grew up in Manhattan, so my definition of “crowded” may differ from yours.) Nor did I experience less personal service on Viking, partly because Viking (unlike other river cruise lines) has a dedicated concierge who provides such service. If I were you, instead of choosing among river ships based on the number of passengers, I’d choose based on factors that I think will affect your trip more—namely, itinerary, river landscape, cabin type, and like-minded fellow passengers.

Mistake No. 5: Booking the least expensive cabin
In a hotel it can make sense: Choose the lowest-category room at a fabulous property, so you can take advantage of everything the hotel offers, and use the room just for sleeping. On a river cruise, though, the least expensive cabin can be really tight—170 square feet or less—with small windows that don’t open. It’s usually worth the several hundred dollars more to get a French balcony. The aforementioned Avalon “Panorama Suite” cabins cost about $100 more per person per day than the ship’s lowest-category rooms. They’re worth it.

Mistake No. 6: Assuming you can dine on your own
In a hotel or on a megaship, it’s easy to stick to yourselves, but on a river ship, there’s a lot of forced socializing. Every night there’s a four-course (at least), two-hour (at least) dinner where you’re seated at tables with other passengers, some of whom you just met. I’ve made some great friends at these chance meetings, but I’ve also been stuck with some louts. Viking is the only river line I know that provides an alternative venue where you can grab a half-hour dinner on your own if you just don’t feel like making chit-chat with strangers.

Mistake No. 7: Assuming there’s room service
Room service is a given in hotels, and it’s usually free on ocean cruise ships, but on river ships it barely exists. On certain ships, in certain cabins, you can get a room-service breakfast, but you almost never can get a room-service dinner. (Avalon is now offering room-service dinner for a fee of 20 euros, so you can dine in the privacy of your own room, overlooking the water.)

It’s not clear to me why you’d ever need a room-service breakfast, though, given that on many ships food is available in the observation lounge—which is no more than a 30-second walk from your cabin on these small ships—starting at about 6 a.m.

“Early risers’ breakfast,” in Avalon Tapestry II’s observation lounge

“Early risers’ breakfast,” in Avalon Tapestry II’s observation lounge, precedes the regular breakfast buffet in the dining room.

Attention, caffeine addicts: Don’t expect to find an in-room coffee machine in most river-ship cabins. You really don’t need one, though: Every vessel I’ve sailed on has a fancy coffee machine mid-ship (either off the lobby or in the observation lounge) that whips up espressos, cappuccinos, and machiattos, plus there’s hot chocolate, an assortment of teas, and snacks such as cookies and fruit. And that coffee machine is never more than a 30-second walk from your cabin. In fact, on the Avalon Tapestry II, there are two such coffee set-ups—one in the front lounge, one in the back lounge. Which means coffee is never more than 15 seconds away.

Coffee machine in the back observation lounge of Avalon Tapestry II

The coffee machine in the back observation lounge of Avalon Tapestry II is one of two coffee-and-tea set-ups aboard the ship.

Finally, one mistake you are too smart to make: Assuming the Wi-Fi will work at all times
The good news: The Wi-Fi on river ships is free. The bad news: It comes and goes, depending on whether you’re in a lock or on a remote stretch of the river or the other passengers are sucking up all the bandwidth. Where you’ll have Wi-Fi and where you won’t is unpredictable—and none of the river lines are better or worse at providing it—so just know that, generally speaking, your best windows of connectivity are when you’re not in a lock and other passengers are off the ship or have gone to sleep. Know that coffee shops in towns along the way offer better and free Wi-Fi. Also know that nobody requires more frequent Wi-Fi than I do, and a river ship is actually one of the best working environments I know: You can sit at your laptop for hours yet have an ever-changing view.

As an example, here’s a fellow passenger at work in the observation lounge aboard Avalon Tapestry II. It’s Gene Sloan, who writes Cruise Log for USA Today—and here’s what Gene had to say about Avalon’s panorama-view cabins.

Are You Packing Too Much?

 

(This Article was recently in Smart Traveler)

Do you struggle to make it through the airport with your unusually large suitcase?

Do baggage fees dominate your credit card statements? Does your luggage frequently come apart at the seams?

If you’re giving a sombre nod, you’re packing too much and it’s time to lose the dead weight. To alleviate your packing troubles, let’s uncover the root of your problem. Here are 10 factors that could be the cause of your overpacking ills, along with some handy tips for lightening your load.

You’re packing for the worst-case scenario

When in doubt, leave it out. Will you really need your swimmers on your business trip? Realistically, will you have an occasion to wear long jeans on your cruise around the Pacific?

Yes, unexpected things will happen on your trip. But contingency planning — from travel insurance to backup copies of identification — shouldn’t extend to the entire contents of your bag.

Pack the essentials for the things that are by and large certain: the activities you have planned, the predicted weather, the prescribed length of your trip. In the event that a cataclysmic pole shift causes the weather in your destination to drastically change, you can always buy warmer clothes while there.

Your bag is too big

If your bag is enormous, you’ll be hard-pressed not to fill it to the brim. The solution is to use a smaller bag to impose reasonable limits on yourself.

Once you’ve bound yourself to the confines of a 56cm vessel, you’ll be compelled to pack a lot less. Plus, a lightweight, good-quality piece of baggage that is well within major airlines’ baggage-size requirements is a worthy investment.

Let’s be honest: if your bag has a lot of space to play with, you’ll find something to fill the space with. Opt for a smaller bag. Picture: iStock

You’re under the tyranny of the weather

Trips through multiple climates or during transitional seasons may lead you to overcompensate and overpack. An April afternoon in Europe could yield anything from wind and ice-cold rain to balmy sunshine. So does that mean you should pack a complete outfit for each possible weather scenario? Not exactly.

The trick is to bring lightweight pieces that layer well. For example, a thin jumper packs the same warming punch of bulky outwear when layered over a warm long-sleeved tee and topped with a cosy scarf. (Find more weather-related packing tips here.)

You’re a procrastinator

It’s essential to create a packing list before leaving for a long journey. For procrastinators, though, this comes as a challenge. You can’t pull together a smart list of things to bring when you’re throwing the contents of your closet into a suitcase several hours before your flight takes off.

Eliminate the temptation to put off packing until the eleventh hour by focusing on the negative consequences of your procrastination. If you don’t think ahead and come up with a good plan, you’re going to be stuck with an overpacked bag and thereby spend your trip lugging around pounds of unnecessary supplies and paying overweight- and oversized-bag fees.

You don’t have the right stuff

Invest in travel products that will ease your packing for years to come. With the right gear, you can pack less by including lighter, multifunctional travel products in your bag. Some of our favourites include foldable shoes, compression bags, and ultra-lightweight clothes.

Stick with stuff you will definitely use — not stuff that would be good to have, just in case. Picture: iStock

You’re not being honest with yourself

Sometimes we find ourselves stuffing our suitcases full of hope. You pack your running shoes and your travel yoga mat because you’ll definitely keep up with your workout routine while on your trip. This time it’ll be different! Or maybe you throw that slinky, glittery dress you never wear into your bag because you think the adventure of travelling will incite you to sport the kind of attire you normally wouldn’t put on at home.

Think hard about what you’ll use on your trip, in actuality, and take note of which items you’ve used on your former travels. After all, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

You lack a laundry strategy

For trips longer than a week, plan to do laundry on the road. Bring laundry soap and wash your clothes in the hotel sink. Look up the locations of laundromats near your accommodation, or investigate prices for laundry services on your cruise or at your hotel. (Hotel laundry services tend to be a rip-off, so choose the do-it-yourself method for maximum savings.) Another option is to consider arranging an apartment rental as they commonly have laundry facilities.

You don’t colour co-ordinate

The secret to pulling together an interesting and diverse assortment of outfits with only a small number of pieces packed in a tiny little bag is colour co-ordination.

First, opt for mostly neutrals. Next, when you add in colour, keep your choices within the same family, such as blues and blacks, or soft coral and peach tones. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll find that you can pack in such a way that all of your tops co-ordinate with all of your bottoms, yielding exponential outfit options. (Read more about how to colour co-ordinate here).

It’s nice to have everything you’ll need and more, but it’s not nice lugging this junk around on holiday. Picture: iStock

You’re a newbie

You’ve underestimated the importance of packing light because you haven’t yet experienced the hell on earth that is dragging three vending-machine-sized bags onto the Paris Metro.

Don’t be foolish. Take the advice of the umpteen travellers who have gone before you and pack the absolute bare minimum.

You’re addicted to gadgets

Gadgets and gizmos can prove useful on a trip. (We love us a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.) But they can also take up a lot of space and add weight to your bag, especially when each electronic item must be paired with its own proprietary charger.

Universal chargers, such as this rechargeable external battery, are gold — we highly recommend picking one up if you normally travel with an armload of tangled cords and power accessories.

Then there’s the problem of packing the necessary converters and adaptors for the countries you’re visiting.

Our advice? Call your concierge in advance. Hotels commonly keep chargers, adaptors, and converters behind the front desk for complimentary guest use.

This article originally appeared on Smarter Travel.

More Ships Fewer Planes Going to Cuba

 

(Recently published in the Miami Herald)

Visiting Cuba by sea is turning into the preferred method for American travelers — at least for now.

On Monday, Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line announced it is adding a second ship for four-day cruises to Havana, following a barrage of announcements from airlines about reduced or canceled service to Cuba.

Norwegian, which already sails with the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky from PortMiami, will now also add voyages with the 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun, but from Orlando’s Port Canaveral, in the summer of 2018. The Sun, like the Sky, will also offer all-inclusive sailings, which means unlimited drinks.

“Our all-inclusive model aboard Norwegian Sky has been very well-received and as we evaluated the opportunity to expand upon that concept, we felt that Port Canaveral was the ideal location to offer our guests a value-rich onboard experience and exciting action-packed ports-of-call, including an overnight call in Havana, Cuba,” said Andy Stuart, president and CEO for Norwegian Cruise Line, in a statement.

The Sun’s four-day cruises will also include a stop in Key West. The ship will also sail three-day cruises to the Bahamas from Orlando. The trips begin in May 2018.

Norwegian, as well as other major cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, have continued to add sailings to Cuba as other travel sectors have struggled to gauge demand to the island. Airlines have concentrated most of their flights to Havana, where demand has remained strong, and eliminated flights to other parts of the island.

But cruise lines, experts say, have experienced continued growth largely because they bring their own accommodations and coordinate tours, making it easier for American travelers to follow the changing restrictions for travel to the island.

American travelers must fit within one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, including the popular “people-to-people” cultural visits that include most cruise passengers. President Donald Trump recently amended some of those restrictions, barring Americans from taking individual people-to-people trips and doing businesses with entities that are owned and controlled by Cuba’s military. Exactly how the policy works will depend on regulations that have yet to be released.

Things You Should Not Do on a Ship Balcony

Here are 10 things the website recommends you avoid doing on a balcony.

►Smoking. Even if your line hasn’t banned smoking on balconies — and many have — it’s annoying to those around you who would like to breathe fresh sea air, not smoke from your cigarette, cigar or pipe. Stick with assigned smoking areas if there are any.

►Playing loud music: Your idea of relaxing tunes might drive your neighbor batty.

►Getting frisky. It might seem romantic to have sex on the deck, but other people can see you, and it can be dangerous too.

“A man allegedly jumped off his veranda in an attempt to rescue his significant other after knocking her overboard during an outdoor rendezvous” in 2007, Cruise Critic wrote.

Luckily, they survived. Imagine trying to explain it to the rescue crew.

►Baring it all. Naked sunbathing is a no-no. You could be putting on a show for people on other decks.

►Standing or climbing on furniture or railings or throwing things overboard.

Cruise lines have strict rules about dropping things overboard — with good reason. You could hit someone below, or if you drop a lighted cigarette, it might blow back and start a fire.

►Drying your clothes.

►Leaving the outside light or or the sliding door to the cabin open. That’s an energy drain because of cabin air conditioning.

 

Why Is It Always Cold On Planes?

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is or what tropical destination you are flying to in the world, it’s always winter on a plane.

Turns out, there is actually a very important reason why the in-flight temperatures are kept so low in the cabin.

A study published in American Society for Testing and Materials, Fainting Passengers: The Role of Cabin Environment, found that warmer cabin temperatures may increase the risk of fainting for some passengers.

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According to the study, the likelihood of fainting is “higher aboard an aircraft than on the ground” due to “reduced pulmonary ventilation”, or reduced blood flow to the brain, caused by immobility, drowsiness, and the build up of gas in the abdomen.

And in an environment that is already higher-risk, the research found that “high cabin temperatures may further trigger this reaction”.

So on a flight that has hundreds of people crammed on board, whose bodies would each have different definitions of overheating, cabin crew will keep the aircraft on the cooler side to err on the side of caution.

It’s easier to wear layers and ask for a blanket than fainting on a flight.

Aside from the heightened risk of fainting, it is also safer to keep cabin temperatures lower to avoid dehydration. The air in a plane is already drying, so if the temperature dial is turned up, it would dehydrate passengers even more, making them sick and nauseas.

So next time you are freezing on a plane, keep in mind that having to put on more layers to keep warm is much easier than being sick on a long-haul flight.