What To Expect From Cruising in 2018


(posted on Travel Agent Site)

Faster, more innovative technology, meaningful connections and a boom in luxury expedition cruising are on the horizon for 2018 in Cruise Planners’ annual list of predictions for cruise travel.

“Change is an exciting part of the travel industry,” said Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, in a written release. “Things that were once considered innovations are now expectations. The level of technology, luxury accommodations or custom travel experiences that travelers expect are high. Travel agents continue to be the essential part of delivering these experiences to travelers.”

Knowing consumer demands are evolving, here are Cruise Planners’ 2018 travel trend predictions directly from the home-based travel agency:

1. Luxury Expeditions – Getting down and dirty doesn’t always appeal to explorers, but stately accommodations and champagne toasts in exotic locations just might. Expedition cruising is taking travelers to the far corners of the earth on small-ship cruises with modern amenities, delicious cuisine and authentic experiences in a style explorers from days of old could not even fathom.

The Scenic Eclipse, Scenic Cruises’ new 6-star luxury discovery yacht launches in 2018 and is equipped with a helicopter and submarine. Hurtigruten is expanding its fleet, starting with the MS Roald Amundsen, and making sailing Antarctica and the Arctic more immersive and environmentally sustainable.

Private yacht charters are gaining popularity with intimate experiences and stellar service as guests travel to hard-to-reach destinations. For guests not looking to charter a ship, small ships such as the Crystal Esprit offer the exclusivity of yachting with only 62 passengers.

2. BIG Little Extras – Travel agents are curating meaningful moments for their clients that surprise and delight. From booking a photographer to capture a proposal in front of the Eiffel Tower to arranging a scenic helicopter transfer to a five-star hotel, travel agents are making dreams come true that travelers didn’t even know they had.

Travel agents are upping the wow factor of the world’s most iconic museums and monuments by scheduling early admittances or private evenings for guests. Cruise lines and tour operators are partnering with cultural hot spots to provide the exclusive tours and experiences that money simply can’t buy, either before the crowds arrive or after the sun goes down.

3. Skip-Gens – “Skip-Gen” travel are vacations where grandparents take the grandkids on a special adventure, leaving the parents behind to enjoy their own time off. Vacations are the perfect time to make lasting memories while taking the time to learn from each other.

Grandparents might figure out how to take the perfect selfie while grandkids hear about life *gasp!* before cell phones.

4. Experiences of a Lifetime – Whether it only happens once or only happens once a year, travel agents are sending their clients to events offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience that also give their clients serious bragging rights when they return back home. Travelers are already planning trips for 2020’s Tokyo Olympic Games and the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany. Annual celebrations such as Germany’s beer festival, Oktoberfest, or India’s color festival, Holi, take cultural immersion to a new level for travelers looking to not only see a destination, but experience it at its height of celebration.

5. Room for One, Please – Traveling solo doesn’t have to mean traveling alone as cruise lines and tour operators make it easier and more comforting for those looking to explore the world with like-minded travelers. For retirees, Millennials and everyone in between, solo travel could be as complex as wanting to find oneself or as simple as being the only family member on the trip not sharing a room with a significant other.

Cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America Line feature single cabins on select ships while other cruise lines, including AmaWaterways, offer waived single-supplement fees on select sailings so solo travelers only pay one cruise fare. Tour operators, including Contiki, offer roommate-matching programs where solo travelers are assigned a roommate of the same sex.

6. Intuitive Tech – Technology is elevating the entire travel process, starting with trip planning. Virtual reality is giving travelers a 360-degree peek at what their destination may be like while Cruise Planners’ exclusive Alexa Skills are keeping travelers connected to their travel agents hands-free. Smart technology on board continues to innovate, most notably with Princess Cruises’ Ocean Medallions which will be available on their entire fleet by the end of 2019.

7. River Cruising for All – Just as ocean cruising has seen major shifts over the past two decades, river cruising is coming out of its shell, diversifying its offerings and targeting more than just Baby Boomers.

U by Uniworld is designed exclusively for travelers aged 21-45, offering the allure of backpacking through Europe, but without the backpacking, hostel stays or uncertainty. Families are finding river cruising to be an appealing multi-generational trip with children’s programming including AmaWaterways’s Adventures by Disney sailings and Tauck Bridges itineraries.

The variety of on-shore experiences are expanding with more active excursions, such as the Avalon Active Discovery itineraries and more culturally immersive opportunities such as cooking in a local’s home.



Civil Rights Museum Opens in Jackson

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — In the 1950s and ’60s, segregationist whites waved Confederate flags and slapped defiant bumper stickers on cars declaring Mississippi “the most lied about state in the Union.”

Those were ways of defiantly pushing back against African-Americans who dared challenge racial oppression, and taking a jab at journalists covering the civil rights movement.

Decades later, as Mississippi marks its bicentennial, the state is getting an unflinching look at its complex, often brutal past in two history museums, complete with displays of slave chains, Ku Klux Klan robes and graphic photos of lynchings and firebombings.

The Museum of Mississippi History takes a 15,000-year view, from the Stone Age through modern times. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum concentrates on a shorter, but intense span, from 1945 to 1976.

They open Saturday, the day before the 200th anniversary of Mississippi becoming the 20th state.

The two distinct museums under a single roof are both funded by state tax dollars and private donations. Officials insist the museums aren’t intended to be “separate-but-equal” in a state where that phrase was invoked to maintain segregated school systems for whites and blacks that were separate and distinctly unequal.

“We are telling a much longer story in the Museum of Mississippi History, a much deeper story in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum,” said Katie Blount, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “We want everybody to walk in one door, side by side, to learn all of our state’s stories.”

The general history museum depicts Native American culture, European settlement, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction. It examines natural disasters, including the Mississippi River flood in 1927 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It also has only-in-Mississippi items such as the crown Mary Ann Mobley wore as Miss America 1959.

The museums’ opening caps a yearlong bicentennial commemoration. Some events celebrated Mississippi’s success at producing influential authors and musicians, such as William Faulkner, Richard Wright, B.B. King and Elvis Presley. Others took a critical look slavery and segregation.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to attend the museums’ opening, a White House official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the trip before a formal announcement. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, a Trump supporter, invited the president. The Mississippi NAACP president is asking Bryant to rescind the invitation, with state chapter president Charles Hampton saying “an invitation to a president that has aimed to divide this nation is not becoming of this historic moment.”

Mississippi — one of the nation’s poorest states, population 59 percent white and 38 percent black — remains divided by one of its most visible symbols. It’s the last state with a flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem that critics see as racist. All eight public universities, and several cities and counties, stopped flying it in recent years.

There’s no flagpole outside the new museums.

Ellie Dahmer, the 92-year-old widow of slain civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer, said the flag represents an unabashed defense of slavery. She marveled at the existence of the civil rights museum in a state that won’t abandon the banner.

A display in the museum tells of the 1966 KKK firebombing of the Dahmer home outside Hattiesburg after local NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer announced he’d pay poll taxes for black people registering to vote. He fired back at Klansmen who were shooting at his burning house. The family escaped, but Vernon Dahmer’s lungs were seared; he died. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter was severely burned.

Parts of the Dahmers’ bullet-riddled truck are in the museum with photos.

The Mississippi museum joins several others focused on civil rights: the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta ; the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee; the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama; Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington has attracted crowds since opening in 2016.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a 49-year-old Mississippi native who chairs African-American Studies at Princeton University, said “Mississippi was ground zero” for the civil rights movement, and it’s significant that the state presents an honest account of its history.

“America can’t really turn a corner with regards to its racist and violent past and present until the South, and particularly a state like Mississippi, confronts it — and confronts it unflinchingly,” Glaude said.

In the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, columns list about 600 documented lynchings — most of them of black men. One gallery’s ceiling shows decades-old racist advertising images.

Ku Klux Klan robes are on display. So’s the remnant of a cross that was burned in 1964 outside white merchants’ in McComb after they refused to fire black employees who registered to vote. So are mug shots of black and white Freedom Riders, who were arrested in Jackson in 1961 for challenging segregation on buses.

A large display tells about Emmett Till, the black teenager from Chicago who was kidnapped and killed after witnesses said he whistled at a white woman working in a Mississippi grocery store in 1955.

The central gallery provides a hopeful respite: An abstract sculpture 30 feet (9 meters) tall lights up as a soundtrack plays the folk song “This Little Light of Mine.” As more visitors enter, more voices join the chorus and more lights flicker, symbolizing how one person’s work can become part of a larger effort that leads to change.—

Christmas Markets in Britian


(Recently published in the Independent)

It may be five weeks until Christmas, but Britain‘s festive markets have already started opening their doors. Here are some of the best options for mulled wine, traditional wooden toys, ice rinks and much more.


November 23 to December 10

This is a bumper market with over 200 stalls lining the streets of Bath around the wonderful Roman Baths and the Abbey. Nearly all the items and produce on sale are from the local area, or made by local suppliers. Ceramics and glasswear, clothes, toys and homeware are among the items on sale – as well as food and drink. When you’ve done enough shopping, head for the ice rink (open until January 2, 2018) and glow-in-the-dark crazy golf course at nearby Royal Victoria Park, take a tour of the Roman Baths, or watch a performance at the Theatre Royal.

bathchristmasmarket.co.uk;  visitbath.co.uk

Bath travel guide


November to January (various dates)

Visitors can take their pick from several markets throughout London, from the traditional Nordic inspired Southbank Centre Winter Market (November 14 to December 30) at Royal Festival Hall Riverside, to the festive extravagance of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (November 18 to January 2), with its giant observation wheel, ice rink, circus shows and ice bar alongside the Christmas market. The pop-up town of Winterville will take over part of Clapham Common from November 23 to January 1, with an indoor market and entertainment including a Street Feast food area, big wheel, crazy golf and roller disco.


London travel guide

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November 19 to January 7 

Edinburgh has a host of festive markets and fairs taking place into New Year. Visitors can choose from the Christmas market in East Princes Street Gardens with a big wheel and Star Flyer chair ride (ends January 6) and another in George Street, with Santa’s Grotto and a new Ice Adventure feature (ends December 24).


Edinburgh travel guide


November 16 to December 24

Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham is the largest German market held outside Germany and Austria. Visitors can soak up the village atmosphere in Victoria Square while enjoying a range of German fare – from mulled wine and beers to meats and pastries. The Christmas Craft Fair next door extends onto Chamberlain Square, featuring various handmade gifts from local artists.



November 18 to December 23

Belfast‘s City Hall gardens are transformed into a village setting for its Christmas market. Visitors can wander around its stalls, sampling festive treats from Belgian chocolates and French tarts to various cheeses and German sausages. As well as authentic continental food, you’ll find clothing, arts crafts and decorations from across Europe and Santa’s Grotto for children.


Belfast travel guide


November 10 to December 21

Manchester hosts several markets throughout the city, from a European market in Albert Square, a German-style market at St Ann’s Square and French-themed stalls at King Street. You’ll find boutiques and some great food outlets at Exchange Square, and arts and crafts at Brazennose Street with a globally-sourced selection of jewellery, leather goods and speciality foods. There are fairground rides in Cathedral Gardens and more stalls in New Cathedral Street and Market Street.


Manchester travel guide

15 of the best Christmas markets in Europe


November 9 to December 22

The Glasgow Christmas Market continues at St Enoch Square, with an international array of goods on offer. Visitors can sample Bavarian beers and mulled wine as well as hog roasts and French crepes. The additional Christmas market at George Square (November 25 to December 29), features craft gifts as well as live entertaiment and funfair rides.


Glasgow travel guide

How long until Christmas 2017?


November 9 to December 23

There’s a great range of artwork on sale at this traditional market in the centre of Cardiff – from collage and photographic prints to posters and cards. Other stalls sell children’s toys and outfits, glassware and ceramics, knitwear, jewellery and much more. Beyond the market there’s a funfair and ice rink at Winter Wonderland and Santa’s Grotto in the atmospheric setting of Cardiff Castle.

cardiffchristmasmarket.com;  cardiffswinterwonderland.com

The best hotels in Wales


November 16 to December 17

Devon‘s cathedral city hosts its Christmas market on the historic grounds of Cathedral Green. Locals showcase a variety of hand-crafted gifts and foods including roast hog, baklava, Belgian chocolates, crepes and speciality cheeses.


Devon travel guide


November 25 to December 10

Brighton does things slightly differently. Over three weekends in November and December, local artists will open their homes, studios and workshops to sell a range of arts and crafts direct to Christmas shoppers in the Artists Open Houses scheme. Openings – at around 60 venues – will take place on weekends between November 25 and  December 10. Items for sale include paintings, prints, upcycled goods, knitwear, jewellery (pictured) and sculpture and textiles. Several artists will hold workshops with drawing classes, craft activities and puppet shows.

Brighton travel guide


November 20 to December 22

The lovely medieval city of Winchester has one of the largest Christmas markets in the south of England, with around 100 wooden chalets in the Cathedral Close, alongside an open-air skating rink. Stalls sell a range of ​craft items, including Christmas decorations, jewellery, hats, belts, artwork and ​wooden toys and there’s a German theme to the food and drink offerings, with mulled wine and bratwurst.

If it gets too crowded (and it can do) wander beyond the Close into the centre of town; just a short walk away are The Square and Parchment Street, both with a range of interesting independent shops – and there’s more shopping and lots of cafes and restaurants in the surrounding streets.



December 2, December 16 and 17

This lovely Cotswolds town is full of Christmas activities and events, with the Sparkles Advent Festival and Market on December 2, when the festive lights are switched on, and a Christmas Market selling a range of food and gifts on December 16 and 17. Both will be held in the newly regenerated Market Place.


Cotswolds travel guide

13 beautiful places in Britain you’d never thought to visit


November 17 to December 24

Nottingham‘s Victorian-themed gift and craft market (ends December 24) is full of festive delights, from roasted chestnuts, cider and mulled wine to carol singing. The market is spread over Smithy Row, Albert Street and Lister Gate. Visitors can also enjoy Nottingham’s Winter Wonderland (to December 31) on the Old Market Square, with winter-themed bars, including a new ski lodge style bar, a traditional carousel, children’s rides, an ice rink and live music.



November 10 to December 24

Christkindelmarkt, a German Christmas market set in the heart of Leeds at Millennium Square, offers over 40 stalls and delicacies including bratwurst sausages, goulash and schnitzels and carousel rides. There are free children’s activities every Sunday between 11am and 1pm, including face painting and games. Look out for winter wonderland princesses and other costumed characters. The Ski Hutte bar in an alpine chalet-style setting aims to create an apres ski-inspired atmosphere with music.



November 23 to December 22

Held at Guildhall Square in this lovely medieval city, Salisbury’s Christmas market will host over 100 exhibitors this year. Look out for street entertainers, musical performances from choirs and local schools, as well as a colourful Christmas lantern parade on November 30. Take a break from the market to see the Magna Carta exhibition in Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House – one of only four remaining copies of the document is housed there.



November 28 to December 24

Visitors to Canterbury‘s small traditional market can enjoy the festive spirit in an intimate setting at Whitefriars Square, from German mulled wine and sausages to Christmas music and hand-crafted gifts from its colourful cabins.


Historic houses and castles

(November and December)

A Christmas Gift Fair is held in the grounds of atmospheric Leeds Castle, which has been decorated for Christmas with cinnamon and orange wreaths, pine trees and sparkling lights. The market will feature live music, children’s rides ,reindeer,  a Victorian carousel and other fairground attractions. The market is open on November 25 and 26, December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17.  The Country Homes and Interiors Christmas Fair will take place on the lawns in front of Stonor Park in Oxfordshire from November 23-26 – and again the house itself has been decked out in festive style. A Christmas Fair and Fine Food Market will run at Burghley House in Lincolnshire from November 23-26.





Perth, Australia

Kookaburras laugh at me from downtown gum trees as I slip off the little black stilettos that saw me through a five-star, local-wine-paired tasting luncheon of aboriginal-influenced cuisine at Perth’s uber-chic rooftop Wildflower Restaurant.

I trade them for sneakers in my handbag.

Less than 15 minutes later, I’m trekking across a glass-floored treetop walkway in Kings Park among the lofty upper reaches of a eucalyptus and karri forest amid flitting cockatoos and shrieking lorikeets.

Perched at the edge of the Outback and surrounded by nature, Western Australia’s state capital of Perth has long been considered a laid-back provincial backwater (W.A. jokingly meant “Wait Awhile”). For me and countless others over the years, the city was merely an international airport stop en route to the fine-wine Margaret River region to the south or snorkeling with whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park to the north.

However, I recently began noticing Perth topping lists of the world’s most livable cities. They listed an upgraded river waterfront, 19 white-sand Indian Ocean surfing beaches within the metro region, vast green spaces, spotless urban trains, free downtown buses and a newly flourishing “hip” scene.

Perth also boasts the most sunshine of any Australian capital, an average of nine hours a day.

Was this far-flung city of 1.7 million finally worth enduring an extra five-hour flight west from Sydney for jet-lagged international travelers? In March I decided to find out, booking five days in Perth en route to visiting nearby Margaret River.

Even before I reach my hotel, it’s clear massive renovations have changed Perth’s face. A disfiguring rail line splitting the city in two had just been buried and replaced by parkland. The downtown core was now extended toward the Swan River bank — where black swans glided — with the new Elizabeth Quay, an open-air entertainment and leisure space with fantastic public art and architecture, bike paths, waterfront bars and restaurants.

Even the once-abandoned 1878 Treasury Building — one of a complex of three historic state buildings in Perth’s Central Business District — had been elaborately revamped and was now home to a heritage cluster of cool bistros and boutiques, a wine bar, craft beer magnet and luxury hotel.

Born amid the 1880s gold rushes, Perth’s skyline is dominated by the glittering skyscrapers of this boom-and-bust city’s oil, gas and mining industries, but at their feet is a charming collection of people-size colonial architecture including a maze of pedestrian-only streets, cafe- and shop-lined laneways, and charming arcades including the Art Nouveau Trinity and Tudor-styled 1937 London Court.

That evening I join a bar and foodie walking tour through the once-seedy Northbridge neighborhood, literally on the wrong side of the former railway tracks. It has morphed delightfully over the past five years into a bustling, quirky hive of artsy murals, small creative restaurants like the popular Hummus Club (started as a falafel stand in the farmers’ market), funky gin or rum bars and 1920s speakeasy-style hideaways with names like Sneaky Tony’s. The Perth Cultural Centre complex is also here, complete with the state’s art gallery, Institute of Contemporary Art and two theaters.

There is regular open-air music at Elizabeth Quay and at Kings Park, where I stare up at the stars during a classical evening concert in one of the world’s biggest urban parks, a 1,000-acre oasis of grassy parkland and botanical gardens with two-thirds of the total space conserved as native bushland including rarely seen Outback wildflowers. Eighty indigenous species attract bird-watchers from around the globe.

Just a 30-minute drive downriver, Perth’s history-rich port suburb of Fremantle on the Indian Ocean is a rare gem of 19th century streetscapes now packed with organic restaurants and coffee shops, the best-loved area being nicknamed “Cappuccino Strip.” Its collection of heritage buildings dates back to the 1830s and includes the 1852 Fremantle Prison, which convicts had to build for themselves, with tiny 7-by-4-foot cells. Shockingly, it was in maximum-security operation until 1991. It’s now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Fremantle it’s a 35-minute ferry hop to Rottnest Island, an idyllic 7-square-mile nature reserve. Howling winds don’t seem to bother either the ferry captain or the dozens of sailboats whizzing and bouncing across whitecaps — Perth is the world’s third windiest city and has the country’s highest rate of boat ownership.

“This is nothing,” the captain chuckles, spinning the wheel to keep the bucking boat on track. “There’s a reason we snatched the Cup from the Yanks — we call this a light breeze.”

Main street in the historic downtown of Fremantle. Photo: James Hutchison, Special To The Chronicle

Photo: James Hutchison, Special To The Chronicle

Main street in the historic downtown of Fremantle.
Main street in the historic downtown of Fremantle.

It was in 1983 that Perth first hit North America’s radar when, for the first time in 132 years, the United States lost the America’s Cup to the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s Australia II before the Stars and Stripes won it back again off Fremantle in 1987.

Rottnest Island was named in 1696 by a Dutch captain. He had spotted what he thought were cat-sized rats and called it “Rotte nest,” meaning “rat nest” in 17th century Dutch. Actually, they were quokkas, a small indigenous wallaby-like marsupial.

Before I even have time to grab my rental bike in the island’s original hub of Thomson Bay, I meet my first quokka, a cute critter with a funny “smile” that made quokka selfies go viral on the Internet a few years ago. One guide tells me that quokkas and their quirky selfies alone attract tourists all the way from Japan.

I spend the day cycling along white beaches, past lighthouses and trying not to run over very tame quokkas ambling across the country roads. I finish with a cold local Little Creatures beer and an Aussie meat pie overlooking a turquoise bay at the end of the day.

Before I’m really done with Perth, it’s time to head south 168 miles to the Margaret River, my favorite Australian premium wine-growing region. It’s a rural farming, cheese-making, craft beer and wine mecca known for its tender local Arkady lamb, truffles that conveniently ripen during the Northern Hemisphere’s dormant season and seafood, including the delicious local freshwater crayfish called “marron.” The epicenter of all things edible and artisanal is the weekend Margaret River Farmers’ Market.

I settle into a farm cottage 3 miles from the sea and sip morning coffee watching kangaroos and parrots graze alongside the neighbors’ sheep in my eucalyptus-scented backyard field. Then I head off to winery-hop — Vasse Felix for a tasting and lunch overlooking the vineyards; Cape Mentelle to lie on the lawn watching an outdoor evening movie with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend in my hand. At some vineyards I can even hear the world-class competition surf breaking on nearby beaches.

Every day I put in some time walking sections of the Cape to Cape Trail that spans 84 miles between the lighthouses at the tips of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. A low-key bush trail that blends into the environment, it meanders through Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park’s coastal forest and along headlands and pristine beaches where charming cliff-top cafes like the White Elephant serve some of the planet’s best fish and chips.

When I reach the Trail’s southern terminus, I treat myself to a three-hour, six-course gastronomic marathon at Voyager Estate Winery.

Though still more conservative than other Aussie cities, Perth has become more sophisticated, funky, creative and intriguing while remaining outdoorsy and relaxed. I’m hooked, already planning my next trip back — stilettos, sneakers and all.

Azamara Adds Third Ship


(Recently posted in USA Today)

The first new Azamara Club Cruises ship to debut since the line’s founding in 2010 will spend its first winter in South America — a continent rarely on the line’s schedule.

Arriving in August, the 690-passenger Azamara Pursuit will operate a series of voyages around South America out of Lima, Peru; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Santiago, Chile starting in November 2018, Azamara will announce today.

The sailings will include trips to Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords — both firsts for the line. There also will be voyages to Brazil that will place the vessel in Rio de Janeiro around New Year’s Eve and during Carnivale.

“We’re going to plug into New Year’s Eve right off the Copacabana,” Azamara president and CEO Larry Pimentel told USA TODAY. “That is an extraordinary experience.”

RELATED:  Azamara Club Cruises ship emerges from major makeover

Speaking in advance of today’s announcement, Pimentel said he and his itinerary planners purposely designed a schedule for the new ship that would take it to places the line has rarely if ever visited. Pursuit will be the first Azamara ship to arrive in South America in three years, and it’ll be the first ever to sail along the west coast of South America, he noted.

“For us, it was about adding more (new itineraries) because the guests are destination collectors,” Pimentel said. “All of sudden we’re able to throw an immense amount of new at them.”

In advance of the South America sailings, Pursuit will operate more than half a dozen Europe voyages that include a 15-night trip out of Southampton, England to Iceland, and several Greek Islands voyages that focus on off-the-beaten-path stops.

Pursuit will debut on Aug. 3 with a 10-night sailing from Barcelona to Southampton, England.

Pursuit is an existing ship that Azamara is buying from British line P&O Cruises and upgrading in a massive overhaul scheduled to take place between March and August.

Originally built in 2001 for now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, the vessel is a sister to Azamara’s two current ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest. Journey and Quest also originally sailed for Renaissance.

With just two ships, Azamara has been one of the smallest cruise lines that markets to North Americans. The addition of Pursuit not only expands Azamara’s capacity by 50% but also allows it to operate a far more diverse array of voyages, Pimentel noted.

In all, Azamara’s destination offerings will expand by 40% after Pursuit’s arrival with the vessel sailing to 61 ports in its first year that aren’t currently on the schedules of the other two ships, Pimentel said.

Pursuit’s initial cruises will include visits to 15 places that no Azamara ship has ever visited before. They include Agadir, Morocco; Antofagasta, Chile; Fowey, United Kingdom; Callao, Peru (the port for Lima); Maceió, Brazil; and Monemvasia, Greece.

Since debuting seven years ago, Azamara has carved out a niche in the cruise world by focusing on “destination immersion,” a term the company has trademarked and that revolves around its ships staying far longer in ports than is common in the industry. The line is known for itineraries with lots of late night and overnight stays in ports, and it also offers a rich array of shore excursions that include multi-day outings and once-a-cruise, exclusive AzAmazing Evenings events.

The new Pursuit itineraries will include 48 late night stays and 26 overnights.

“We spend a lot of time curating what we do on the ground,” Pimentel said. “That’s the reason to go on the product.”

Among unusual offerings available to passengers on Pursuit’s South America sailings will be a two-night stargazing experience in the super-dry Atacama Desert near Antofagasta — known as one of the best locations on Earth for viewing stars. Also built into the South America schedule is the opportunity to do yoga in the Paracas Desert near Pisco, Peru.

History of St. Petersburg

by Tribune Content Agency and Rick Steves, Rick Steves Travel – PBS, October 24, 2017

A former imperial capital and the home of the czars, St. Petersburg is Russia’s most tourist-worthy city. Pastel palaces, bucolic gardens, commanding statues and graceful waterways evoke romantic images of Peter the Great and the Romanov dynasty.

But travelers can also find memories of St. Petersburg’s darker history: In 1917, the Russian Revolution started in the streets, ultimately doing away with the czars and ushering in the Soviet era.

In February of that year, Czar Nicholas II was ousted and a provisional government took over. Just months later, in what’s now called the “October Revolution,” Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks grabbed power. Not long after, the Bolsheviks executed Nicholas and his family.

In today’s Russia, there’s little official recognition of the centenary of these turbulent events. Still, St. Petersburg’s Museum of Russian Political History (www.polithistory.ru) tells the story in detail, and you’ll find other revolutionary sights around the city.

Start with the battleship “Aurora,” docked on the Neva River (and now a museum). According to popular history, this ship had a key role in the revolution: It was a shot fired from the Aurora that signaled the start of the October uprising.

On that fateful day, the anarchists’ first move was to storm the czars’ Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum), where members of the provisional government had holed up. Imagine them worriedly looking out over the huge Palace Square as it filled with masses of angry workers, inspired to action by the promise of a better life under Bolshevism.

The seeds of this discontent had been planted a half-century earlier, in 1861. Nicholas’ grandfather, Alexander II, freed Russia’s serfs. Suddenly free but with no land and no livelihood, the dumbfounded peasants rioted. Meanwhile, extremists, dissatisfied with the pace of reform, began plotting. In the end, an assassin tossed a bomb at Alexander, killing him on a St. Petersburg street in 1881.

The Romanovs built the onion-domed Church on Spilled Blood to commemorate the very spot where the czar fell (even preserving the bloodied cobbles). With its gilded domes and dazzling mosaics, it’s a fairy-tale image of Russian tradition and history, and one of the city’s most popular sights.

But the very theme of the church — honoring an assassinated czar — was an insult to the Bolsheviks. They looted it with gusto during the 1917 revolution. In the communist era, the church was used for storing potatoes, and the streets around it were named for Alexander’s assassins.

Other churches suffered similar degradations. Mobs overran the Peter and Paul Fortress, ransacked its cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, and desecrated the Romanov tombs there. Some churches were made into ice-hockey rinks, swimming pools, and so on. The Kazan Cathedral, repository of the treasured icon of Our Lady of Kazan, for years functioned as a Museum of Atheism.

Today, the churches and Orthodox religious practices have made a comeback. It’s particularly meaningful to see the beautifully renovated cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. Glittering with Orthodox imagery, it’s filled to the brim with dead czars and czarinas, including the last Romanovs: Nicholas II and his wife and children. Things have changed so much that they’re now considered martyrs, and were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ironically, St. Petersburg’s museums owe some of their wealth of western European art to the revolution. The urbane aristocrats of turn-of-the-century Russia patronized French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, buying paintings in Paris (especially from newcomers like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso) and sending them home to St. Petersburg.

After the October Revolution, the state confiscated those private collections and designated them to state museums. The owners, meanwhile, fled abroad. Today the very paintings that once hung in St. Petersburg’s palatial townhouses are viewable in the galleries of the Hermitage and the Russian Museum.

Perhaps the most storied “reclaimed” artworks in St. Petersburg are the Easter eggs crafted by the illustrious House of Faberge, made on commission for czars Alexander III and Nicholas II. Fourteen Easter eggs — nine of them imperial — are on view in the Faberge Museum, itself housed in the beautifully restored Shuvalov Palace.

The final imperial egg (on view in the museum) was given by Nicholas to his mother in 1916. When she fled Russia three years later, it was this egg — with miniature portraits of her murdered son and grandson — that the dowager empress carried out. The Bolsheviks kept the rest, and over time, the Soviets sold the eggs to fund their government. The Faberge Museum (with the help of a deep-pocketed oligarch) had to buy the eggs back on the open market.

A century after the revolution, most tourists come to St. Petersburg for its resurrected aristocratic opulence. But its 20th-century upheavals were every bit as transformative as the age of the Romanovs — and are just as enmeshed in the city’s cultural fabric.


EATING: Pelmeniya is a great place to sample dumplings (and variations from around the world). The modern interior overlooks the Fontanka River (Fontanka 25, tel. 7-571-8082). Cococo serves up traditional dishes with a modern twist in a laid-back, mellow cellar (Nekrasova 8, tel. 7-579-0016).

SLEEPING: Alexander House is a boutique hotel in a historic building, with 20 homey rooms in a quiet neighborhood near the Mariinsky Theater (splurge, www.a-house.ru). The basic M Hotel has 61 central rooms tucked away in a utilitarian courtyard near the city’s main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt (moderate, www.mhotelspb.ru).

GETTING AROUND: Most sights (and the dense urban core) are on the south bank of the Neva River. Use the cheap, easy Metro system. Buses and trolley buses help bridge the (sometimes long) gaps between sights and Metro stops and can save tons of time. The useful online English-language journey planner covers Metro and surface transport

Check Into Delta with APP

(posted in Breaking Travel News)

Delta launches automatic check-in through app

Delta Air Lines has added automatic check-in to the Fly Delta app to streamline the check-in experience for customers and take the guesswork out of accessing a boarding pass.

The new functionality, available on the latest version of the app, automatically checks in eligible customers 24 hours prior to their scheduled departure.

Customers receive an alert via email or push notification, open the app, acknowledge the federal government mandate for restricted items, and their boarding pass is there along with all the tools needed for their trip.

“Our customers have told us Delta can eliminate some of their stress associated with upcoming travel if they know their boarding pass is ready and can see their seat assignment,” said Rhonda Crawford, vice president – global distribution, digital strategy.

“Auto check-in provides that peace of mind in a simple, automated solution that also saves valuable time.”

Once inside the app, customers can add checked bags, change seats and purchase upgrades – all from the “Today” mode.
“We’ve approached the app experience with the intention of making it as intuitive as possible,” Crawford continued.
“Take, for example, the bag button in Today mode: once a customer adds a bag, the bag button will dynamically change to display ‘Track My Bags’ so they can take full advantage of Delta’s industry-leading RFID bag-tracking capabilities, through the app.”

Auto check-in is generally available to customers with domestic-only itineraries who already have a seat assignment or are auto-assigned a seat at check-in.
Customers who require assistance with special requests like traveling with a pet in the cabin or traveling as an unaccompanied minor need to continue checking in with an agent.

With more than half of Delta travellers using Delta’s mobile tools to navigate their experience, Delta regularly updates the app for the benefit of customers

Lost Luggage: Your Rights

(posted recently in Huffington Post)


When an airline loses your luggage, it’s never fun. But smart travelers can end up collecting major cash after such instances if they follow the correct protocol.

You should know that on flights within the U.S., airlines are legally required to reimburse you up to $3,500 if your bags are lost, damaged or delayed in getting to you.

Yep, by law, you can collect up to $3,500 for items you had to buy as a result of your bag issue, even if the bag is delayed but eventually returned to you, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Expenses must be both reasonable and documented: Almost all airlines require you to file a claim within a specific timeframe if your bag is delayed, damaged or lost and to document your related spending with receipts. If they think an expense wasn’t necessary ― say, you buy a $3,000 bracelet to wear during the two days that your bag is delayed ― they likely won’t reimburse you for it. Ditto if you purchase something much more valuable than what was actually inside your lost bag.

Expenses must be both reasonable and documented: Almost all airlines require you to file a claim within a specific timeframe if your bag is delayed, damaged or lost and to document your related spending with receipts. If they think an expense wasn’t necessary ― say, you buy a $3,000 bracelet to wear during the two days that your bag is delayed ― they likely won’t reimburse you for it. Ditto if you purchase something much more valuable than what was actually inside your lost bag.

Things like emergency toiletries and replacement clothes, however, are reasonable, and you should know that you’re entitled to be paid back for them. You could even get reimbursed for a hair straightener or salon visit if there were hair tools in your missing bag, one airline spokesperson told HuffPost. You just need to know and follow your airline’s protocol for filing reimbursement claims.

How do I get reimbursed?

Each airline has its own rules for how you should report a lost or delayed bag. American Airlines, for example, requires that passengers present an initial complaint to American before leaving the airport, then mail in a claim form within 45 days if they want compensation. Delta requires passengers to notify a representative, then fill out a form online. You can find your airline’s rules on its website or in its contract of carriage, a document that explains passenger rights. It’s helpful to check your contract of carriage if your bag goes missing, so you know what you’re entitled to.

The contract or rules may also list extra options to take advantage of. For example, United’s website says the airline will pay you $1,500 if your bag is delayed more than three days, no documentation required. (You can file an official claim to receive more, up to the legal $3,500 minimum.) And Delta’s site explains that if your bags aren’t returned within 12 hours, you can request a rebate for the fee you paid to check them. On American, you can claim more than $3,500 in overall compensation if you declare your items were more valuable and are willing to pay a small fee. It’s helpful to know these extra options exist so you can request your money if it isn’t offered to you

So what’s my game plan?

The DOT outlines some general best practices for what to do when your bag goes missing: Report your issue to airline personnel before you leave the airport, and get a copy of the report along with a phone number follow-ups. Discuss what types of items the airline might reimburse you for, and keep receipts for all expenses. If your bag is confirmed as missing, then file a claim accordingly.

It’s also important to remember that airlines rarely lose luggage forever. But taking the above steps will ensure you reap the silver lining of a very annoying situation.

What Currency Should You Use Overseas

(Recently posted on Wendy Perrin’s travel blog)

Overseas Credit Card Purchases: Which Currency Should I Pay With?

Billie Cohen | September 25, 2017

Keeping track of currency exchange rates is a necessity when traveling. Thankfully, there are many apps for that task, so we don’t have to spend too much of our time doing the research (I like Easy Currency Converter; leave your favorite in the comments below). But while it’s helpful to know the rough exchange for your home currency, the actual conversion rate varies from bank to bank, credit card to credit card, and even local merchant to local merchant.

As a result, when you’re overseas and you use a credit card, you’ll often see that the payment machine asks whether you want to pay with U.S. dollars or the local currency. Which one should you choose, and why?

credit card payment machine screen

Overseas credit card machines offer currency options. Which should you choose? Photo: Lindsay Lambert Day

First: Use the right credit card.

Having a credit card that’s ideal for travelers is your first line of defense against currency pitfalls: The good ones waive all foreign-purchase fees. “When you make purchases abroad, you should be using a card that doesn’t add foreign transaction fees to your bill (which can be as much as 3%),” says credit card expert Gary Leff, of View From the Wing. “All cards are going to convert foreign currency to your home currency, and you’ll get the prevailing rate. Some cards, though, will charge you a fee on top of the conversion rate to do it.”

Second: Pay in local currency.

“When a merchant outside the U.S. asks whether you want to be charged in U.S. dollars or your local currency, always say local currency,” advises Gary. “That’s because [the merchant is] going to hit you with their own conversion rate (likely unfavorable, but certainly not as good as the one you will get from your card company). And then, if your credit card hits you with foreign transaction fees, they’re going to charge those fees anyway, even if you paid in U.S. dollars, because it’s a foreign-made transaction.”

The final word:

“There is almost never any benefit to being charged by a merchant in your home currency,” Gary says. “You are best off having your credit-card-issuing bank do it at their rate. And you want to make sure you’re paying with a card that doesn’t charge you for the privilege of making purchases abroad.”


Food Experience in Lima, Peru

Lima was founded as the City of the Kings (Ciudad de Los Reyes) in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Today the city is again reigning supreme within culinary and gastronomic circles as a cradle of Peruvian and world food fusion experiences: Lima had three restaurants named to among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017.

Today we visit Ignacio Barrios, an enigmatic and enthusiastic Peruvian chef who has considerable international culinary experience, having worked in cities as diverse as Madrid and London. In creating Urban Kitchen, he envisioned a setting to let visitors witness and learn how Peru has become so enticing to food lovers on a world stage. This participative cooking experience includes a local market visit, followed by a cooking class where travelers get to fashion their own culinary masterpieces.

The market is near to the Miraflores district, which many visitors of Lima choose as their preferred base. Barrios explains to the group the number of factors that have influenced the development of Peruvian food and gastronomy; the core of these are location, promotion by chefs with government marketing, and, most importantly, cultural influences over time. Product comes first, however: without a good product there is nothing to market. Fortunately, Mother Nature provides an abundance of ocean delights from the cold waters of the Pacific Humboldt Current.

Fresh Peruvian Pacific Ocean Scallops at San Isidro Marke

These delights are complemented by a very diverse landscape that includes desert coastline, central Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rainforest. There are a myriad of ecosystems and micro-climates within these three landscapes that produce a mouth-watering array of natural produce. Chef Miguel Schiaffino is well-known for routinely venturing to the Peruvian Amazon jungle in search of unique flavors.

The fruit and vegetable sections of the market are a kaleidoscope of color and you can’t help but be drawn to the eye-catching offerings of lucuma, chirimoya, guayaba and camu camu, among others. Barrios is open to questions, and he enlightens us with a wonderful history of each of the fruits and vegetables. Both locals and tourists are actively seeking out advice to learn how to source and cook local foods, and this is the perfect place to do so.

Good to know: Urban Kitchen is equally as popular with tourists as it is with locals who often choose it as a place to go with colleagues for a little fun and to learn the secrets to creating great Peruvian food.

Fruit and vegetables at San Isidro Market

The government has played a significant part in promoting Peruvian food, too, both within the country and abroad. In addition, Peruvian chefs such as Virgilio Martínez (who began in Lima), have now opened restaurants in London, Dubai and other distant climes. These chefs have focused on sourcing local Peruvian ingredients as the key to their dishes.

Over many centuries the staple foods of Peru have seen influences from countries such as Japan, China, Italy, Arab and Spain. These influences added to an already-burgeoning food scene, and have served to create a true fusion of global cuisine. On the tour, we learn of examples, such as the development of the local ceviche dish, a fish marinade in lemon juice, now with Nikkei influences; also, a tallarín pasta dish with Genovese Italian traits. Both have grown into a wonderful symphony of food, unique to Peru.

A ten-minute drive takes us from the market to the Urban Kitchen premises in nearby Magdalena, Lima. The premises are impressive with a fine modern downstairs kitchen, and upstairs there is a dining area to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The teaching begins and we pick up the tips and secrets in creating a ceviche dish, which today includes sea bass fillet, lime juice, corn, onion, herbs and a leche de tigre marinade.

Guests enjoy their own hand-crafted Peruvian food creations // Photo by Urban Kitchen
Barrios is always at hand to offer guidance on preparation, timing and attention to detail to create the difference between a good dish and an exceptional dish. He suggests little things like using coarse Maras salt for decoration and taking time in separating the kernels of giant corn, not with a knife, but one-by-one with your fingers. The mistakes made by all are part of the fun and everyone enjoys their final tasting among newfound friends. That’s the beauty of this food tour in Lima: you help create it yourself (and that always tastes better).

The evolution of Peru as a unique destination for food lovers can be found in the midst of centuries of the fusion of cultures from East and West across the globe. This visit to Urban Kitchen adds greatly to this journey as a unique and fun experience in food, culture and cooking. This single-day food tour in Lima is a perfect addition to any visit to Peru. You, too, now know the secret of where to go to create food fit for a king, in this, The City of the Kings.