Hot Destinations in 2017

by Gavin Haines, The Telegraph, August 7, 2017

A new report compiled by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has revealed the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations for 2017 – and the results throw up a few surprises.

So what can we read into the data? Well, the fact that countries such as Egypt and Tunisia feature in the top ten seems to indicate their ability – against the odds – to bounce back after a string of terrorist attacks.

As well as telling tales of resilience, the report also chronicles holidaymakers’ increasing appetite to travel beyond traditional destinations and forge paths on roads less travelled. The presence of Mongolia and Nicaragua in the top ten is testament to that.

Here are the fastest growing tourist destinations so far in 2017:

1. Palestine

Earlier this year the street artist, Banksy, opened a boutique hotel in Palestine’s West Bank, which, in hindsight, appears to have been a sage move: tourism in Palestine is booming. According to the UNWTO, the occupied territories witnessed a 57.8 per cent rise in international arrivals so far this year.

Overlooking the Israeli West Bank barrier, Banksy’s politically-charged Walled Off Hotel has likely helped raise awareness of tourism in Palestine, which is on course to welcome more than 630,000 holidaymakers by the end of the year. Read our review of the Walled Off Hotel here.

2. Egypt

Egypt’s tourist industry has had a torrid time of late. Ongoing political unrest and the downing of a Russian passenger plane in 2015 – which investigators attributed to terrorism – deterred many people from visiting the North African nation.

Much to the chagrin of the Egyptian authorities, the UK government still refuses to let airlines fly to Sharm el-Sheikh, from where the doomed jet departed, meaning Britain is the only European nation apart from Russia not serving the holiday resort. That hasn’t stopped other nationalities flocking to the country, which has witnessed a 51 per cent spike in international tourist arrivals this year and is on course to welcome nearly 8 million holidaymakers in 2017 (though that’s still well below the 14 million who visited in 2010).

At a glance | The rise and fall of tourism to Egypt

3. Northern Mariana Islands

Most people probably couldn’t point to this archipelago on a map, but that hasn’t stopped the Northern Mariana Islands from emerging as one of the fastest growing tourist destinations on the planet. According to the UNWTO, arrivals are up by 37.3 per cent so far this year.

The self-governing US commonwealth territory welcomed a modest 531,000 tourists in 2016, so we’re not talking about a stampede here. Just as well really because people heading to this 15-island archipelago – with its swaying palms and powdery shores – go to escape the masses, not jostle for space with them on the beach.

Reykjavik, Iceland - Boyloso/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Reykjavik, Iceland // Photo by Boyloso/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

4. Iceland

Okay, perhaps seeing Iceland in this list isn’t really a surprise. In fact, it has been well documented by this newspaper how popular the destination is becoming; a popularity attributed to the “Game of Thrones effect” and Icelandair, which offers passengers free stop-offs in Iceland en route to the US.

And the trend continues; according to the UNWTO, arrivals are up 34.9 per cent already this year, meaning the nation is on course to welcome nearly 2.5 million holidaymakers by the end of the year. That’s bound to heighten fears that the island is becoming a “Disneyland for adults”.

29 reasons why Iceland is incredible

5. Tunisia

Tunisia’s tourist industry suffered a similar fate to Egypt’s following the Sousse beach massacre of 2015, when a gunman killed 38 people – most of them 30 Britons – during a shooting rampage.

The hotel where the massacre took place reopened earlier this year and the FCO has since eased its travel advice for Tunisia, which seems to have signalled a change in fortunes for the country: the UNWTO reports arrivals are up by 32.5 per cent so far this year. If the trend continues, some 7.5 million holidaymakers would visit Tunisia in 2017, not far off the 7.8 million who flocked there in 2010.

6. Vietnam

Asia’s fastest growing tourist destination, according to the UNWTO. Granted, Vietnam is not exactly a stranger to tourism; in fact, anyone who has visited Halong Bay – where junk boats packed with tourists jostle for space on polluted waters – will likely have seen the grimmer side of the country’s burgeoning tourism industry.

Visitors should probably expect more jostling because the number of international arrivals this year is already up 31.2 per cent, meaning the number of tourists visiting Vietnam should surpass 13 million by the end of 2017. Where to escape them? Our destination expert, Lee Cobaj, recommends Ninh Binh, “the inland Halong Bay”, as a less crowded alternative to the oversubscribed tourist staple.

7. Uruguay

South America’s fastest growing tourist destination may come as something of a surprise, but on paper it’s easy to see why holidaymakers are finally wending their way to Uruguay (tourist arrivals are up 30.2 per cent year-on-year).

Sandwiched between the tourism heavyweights of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is picturesque, progressive (cannabis was legalised in 2014) and culturally sophisticated destination that’s also, incidentally, home to one of the weirdest Unesco World Heritage Sites: the Fray Bentos meat packing facility. All of which is tipped to entice nearly 4 million holidaymakers this year.

Nicaragua // Photo by AlvaroFaraco/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

8. Nicaragua

Nicaragua has not been making the news for all the right reasons recently. A Chinese plan to build a Panama Canal-rivalling waterway through the country has stoked fears that it would destroy vital wildlife habitats and not provide enough wealth locally. The plan has since been shelved.

Despite the furore, Nicaragua is emerging as a Central America’s fastest growing destination with tourist arrivals up 28.4 per cent so far this year. As well as palm-fringed beaches, the country’s revolutionary history and verdant interior adds to the appeal. Despite the steep rise in arrivals, though, fewer than 2 million holidaymakers are set to visit this year.

9. Mongolia

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the list, Mongolia was once shorthand for “a very long way away” thanks to its geographical isolation amidst vast steppes and sandy deserts. But this rugged Central Asian nation now seems to be currying favour with travellers; according to the UNWTO, international arrivals are up 28.3 per cent this year.

That’s a big leap, but the starting point was somewhat small: only 400,000 odd tourists trekked there in 2017. Definitely a destination for the intrepid, Mongolia is famed for its nomadic inhabitants – with whom travellers can lodge – and mad festivals such as Naadam, a celebration of wrestling, horse racing and archery.

Meet the stars of Naadam, Mongolia’s answer to the Olympics

10. Israel

The top 10, then, is bookended by destinations that live not particularly harmoniously next to one another: Israel and Palestine. They may have plenty of differences, but they share a booming tourist industry (and they do share it because many visitors arriving in Palestine do so via Israel).

According to the UNWTO, tourist arrivals in the country are up by 25.1 per cent so far this year, which, if sustained, would take the overall number of holidaymakers visiting Israel to 3.7 million by the end of the year. Israel and Palestine: the fastest growing destinations in the Middle East. Who saw that coming?

Around the world | In maps

One Third of Travelers Visit Vanishing Destinations


(This was recently published in Travel Agent Central)

Looking for a good sales hook? Many travelers are looking to experience destinations that are in danger of disappearing, according to a new report.

U.S. adults who have traveled during the past year feel it is important to visit “vanishing destinations” before they disappear, according to the latest travelhorizons survey of 2,300 U.S. adults conducted by travel marketing organization MMGY Global.

In the survey, “vanishing destinations” include the Great Barrier Reef, Glacier National Park and Venice, Italy. Nearly four in 10 feel it is very to extremely important to visit these destinations. MMGY said that this trend is most prominent with Millennials, the affluent and those with college degrees or higher.

The level of importance of visiting vanishing destinations seems to decrease with age, MMGY said. Half (51 percent) of Millennial travelers feel it is important, significantly more than all other generations, followed by nearly four in ten Xers (37 percent) and one quarter of Young Boomers (27 percent). Those with an annual household income of $100,000 or more display the highest level of importance to visit vanishing destinations. Similarly, interest tends to decrease as household income decreases. Four in ten travelers with an annual household income of $150,000 or more (42 percent) and $100,000 – $149,999 (39 percent) feel it is important to visit these destinations. More than four in ten (44 percent) of travelers with a college degree or higher feel it is important to visit vanishing destinations, significantly more than those with partial college education (32 percent) or a high school diploma or less (27 percent).

U.S. travelers were also asked about the impact of climate change on their decision to visit destinations that are affected, MMGY said. Four in ten (40 percent) U.S. travelers report climate change does impact their vacation destination decisions. Millennials, travelers with an annual household income of $50,000 – $149,999 and travelers with a college degree or higher are most likely to consider climate change when making destination decisions. More than half of Millennials (53 percent) report climate change impacts their decision, significantly more compared to other generations (Xers: 37 percent, Young Boomers: 30 percent, Older Boomers: 28 percent, Matures: 23 percent).  More than four in ten travelers with an annual household income of $50,000 – $99,999 (43 percent) or $100,000 – $149,999 (43 percent) report climate change has an impact, followed by 38 percent with an annual household income under $30,000, 35 percent with $30,000 – $49,999 and 34 percent with $150,000 or more. Half of travelers with a college degree or higher (49 percent) report that climate change has an impact, significantly more than those with lower education levels (some college: 31 percent, high school diploma: 30 percent).


What Travel is Trending in 2017

(Recently published in Vogue Magazine)

When researching an upcoming trip, many of us are turning to social media for inspiration and intel. In fact, Pinterest reports that it has experienced a 37 percent increase in travel-related searches since last year. With all that quantifiable action, it’s no wonder the virtual bulletin board has accrued some pretty interesting insights. Recently, the network teamed up with another travel force, Airbnb, to determine which destinations are currently trending across both sites. While some of the results come as no surprise (who doesn’t want to go to Bora Bora?), some are a bit more unexpected.

Below, a look at the findings with options for places to stay, should you decide to forgo the Airbnb.

Sharm El Sheikh, EgyptPhoto: Alamy

Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

Sharm El Sheikh is famous for its world-class scuba diving and picturesque, palm-studded beaches. And, despite recent warnings of terrorist actions, visitors continue to flock to the northern Africa region on the Red Sea.

Where to Stay: Sharm El Sheikh is filled with decadent, sprawling resorts. The Four Seasons, which features a romantic, Arabian village–inspired design set among lush gardens along the shore, is one such option.

Tenerife, Canary IslandsPhoto: Alamy

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Europeans have long been flocking to this beachy, sun-drenched Spanish island. Recently, though, Tenerife has experienced a bit of a renaissance as posh hotels, cool boutiques, and stylish restaurants (including some with Michelin stars) have been replacing the more mainstream tourist options.

Where to Stay: Check out the off-the-beaten-path San Roque, an understated boutique hotel within walking distance of authentic restaurants serving tapas and local seafood, in the northern port village of Garachico.

Courchevel, FrancePhoto: Alamy

Courchevel, France

Located in Les Trois Vallées—the world’s largest lift-linked ski region—this storybook Alpine ski village boasts over 170 lifts and a super-diverse terrain; no wonder it’s a popular winter sports destination for everyone from experts to newbies. Off the slopes, there is plenty to do, including hot-air balloon rides and indoor surfing.

Where to Stay: The recently renovated Hôtel des 3 Valléesis housed in a classic chalet but decorated with chic furnishings from the likes of Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé.

Scottish HighlandsPhoto: Alamy

Scottish Highlands

It’s not just the legendary Loch Ness Monster that visitors to the Scottish Highlands are hoping to peep—it’s the area’s cinematic landscapes, romantic old castles, and famed whiskey distilleries, too.

Where to Stay: Near the remote town of Dornoch, The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle is something out of a fairy tale. It’s also known as the “most exclusive” hotel in the world—in fact, non-members are only allowed to visit the property once. For a less intense experience, stay at the romantic Ardanaiseig, an elegant stone country house nestled on the shore of Loch Awe.

ReykjavikPhoto: Alamy

Reykjavik, Iceland

Last year, 1.7 million tourists descend on Iceland’s capital, eager to take in the city’s colorful buildings, cosmopolitan culture, and cooler-than-cool nightlife scene. In fact, so many visitor’s have been flocking to the country’s attractions—the Blue Lagoon, the Gullfoss waterfall, Vatnajökull National Park—that the government has considered limiting the amount of visitors in order to preserve these natural wonders.

Where to Stay: Insiders say, if you’re looking for stunning design and a super-hip vibe, then 101 Hotel is the place to be.

KyotoPhoto: Alamy

Kyoto, Japan

Fun fact: Kyoto has the second most Michelin stars of any city in the world. It also has more than 1,000 temples and shrines and, thanks to its hauntingly beautiful mix of ancient architecture and dense bamboo forests, is often described as Japan’s most mesmerizing city.

Where to Stay: Ugenta, a 200-year-old ryokan inn with just two guest rooms, is nestled in the wooded mountains outside Kyoto.

Bora BoraPhoto: Alamy

Bora Bora, Polynesia

Over-the-water huts, crystalline water, palm fronds swaying to the twinkle of ukulele music: When it comes to romantic, far-flung tropical destinations, Bora Bora occupies an undying space in almost every nomad’s imagination.

Where to Stay: Until the much-anticipated Coqui Coqui Bora Bora opens later this year, there are plenty of stellar options—like the St. Regis and the Four Seasons—each of which are sure to meet every expectation of paradise you have.

New York CityPhoto: Alamy

New York City

The Big Apple, the City That Never Sleeps . . . call it what you will, but the U.S.’s biggest city is always reinventing itself and remains a top tourist destination, thanks to its nonstop cultural offerings, enticing dining options, diverse neighborhoods, and high-octane energy.

Where to Stay: In Manhattan, the recently opened 11 Howard has a conscientious outlook (among them: a portion of proceeds from bookings go to charity) that belies its sleek mid-century modern decor and prime location above Le Coucou. Across the bridge, the brand-new (and jaw-droopingly gorgeous) 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge takes the eco-luxury trend one step further with reclaimed furnishings and energy that’s 100 percent wind-powered.

SantoriniPhoto: Alamy

Santorini, Greece

Perhaps the most well-known island in the Cyclades, Santorini’s picturesque blue-and-white villages and salty Aegean Sea breezes make it a favorite among travelers looking for the quintessential Greek Island vacation.

Where to Stay: At Kapari Natural Resort, the serene, white-walled rooms are carved into a cliff, while the icy blue main pool has a stunning view of the Aegean.

BarcelonaPhoto: Alamy

Barcelona, Spain

Spain’s second biggest city draws a creative-minded crowdwith its infamous street art, ever-growing culinary scene, iconic Modernist architecture, and mild weather—all within view of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

Where to Stay: El Palauet, an intimate boutique hotel housed in an Art Nouveau building, has just six high-design suites and is within walking distance of most of the sights.

Top Military Museums to Visit This Year


(This article recently appeared on Fox News)

The National Infantry Museum – Columbus, Georgia

Presiding over a lawn seeded with soil from real American battle sites, this $100 million museum lies on the outskirts of Fort Benning, Ga., the home of the American infantry. Dedicated to the infantry soldier, the museum houses one of the most sizeable collections of military artifacts in the world. Every infantry soldier is required to train at Fort Benning, and every solider must visit the museum to learn about the soldiers who fought before him or her.

“Summer is a great time of year for the museum,” said Col. Greg Camp, President and Chief Operating Officer of the National Infantry Museum Foundation. “School is out, families can take vacations, and there’s time to relax and fully explore the museum.”

On June 2, the National Infantry Museum will partner with the Columbus Museum for “Operation Warfare: Dinner with the Allies,” where guests learn about and sample the foods that sustained American allies during World War I.

Freedom Fest, held on the Fourth of July at the museum, will host live bands, cannon firings, re-enactors, living historians, Fort Benning’s Silver Wings Parachute Demonstration Team, an old-fashioned Pint-Sized Patriots Parade, children’s games, and festival food. The event is free to the public and open to all.

This summer, the museum will also be launching its virtual reality combat simulators, which allow participants to experience what it’s like to be an infantry soldier.

Where to stay: Originally built in the 1870s, the Rothschild-Pound House Inn is a charming bed and breakfast run by a husband-and-wife team, just ten minutes from the National Infantry Museum. The B&B serves up gourmet breakfasts, which can be delivered to guests’ suites upon request. The Rothschild-Pound House is set in the historic neighborhood in Columbus and is walking distance to both the Chattahoochee River and downtown Columbus.

Where to eat: 11th and Bay Southern Table is posted along the Chattahoochee River and serves up hearty dishes with a southern twist. The restaurant is set in a rustic, former cotton warehouse with indoor and outdoor seating.

Fort Ticonderoga – Ticonderoga, New York

European armies fought for control of the Americas during the 18th century at this frontier post which lies strategically between Canada and the Hudson River Valley. Constructed between 1755 and 1757 during the French and Indian War, this striking star-shaped fort built by the French played a significant role in shaping the nations of the North American continent. Fort Ticonderoga is only open seasonally (May-October), so take advantage of the museum’s summer events.

Resting on 2,000 acres of landscape on Lake Champlain, the historic site will host its “Guns by Night” series every Thursday night (from July 6 through August 24), demonstrating 18th century firepower. Participants learn how guns impacted and shaped the importance of this former citadel and witness a dramatic reenactment at the end of each tour.

On Tuesday evenings from July 11 through August 29, visitors can explore different areas of the fort not open to the general public. A curator describes strengths and weaknesses of the fort and how military personnel prepared to combat the British (Note: an extended period of walking is required for this tour).

Each Monday, Fort Ticonderoga offers summer sunset boat cruises aboard a replica 19th century touring vessel where guests experience a mountainside sunset on Lake Champlain.

The Mount Defiance experience is included in a general admissions ticket, which features a guided tour up the mountain– which afford stunning view across the lake– every day at 4 p.m.

Where to stay: The luxurious Sagamore Hotel is over 100 years old and just a 40-minute drive from Ft. Ticonderoga.

Where to eat: La Bella Vita at the Sagamore offers panoramic views of Lake George and features centuries-old Italian recipes.

Custer Battlefield Museum – Garryowen, Montana

As the site of one of the most studied military actions in U.S. history, Custer Battlefield Museum is located where the Battle of the Little Big Horn began at Sitting Bull’s camp. Honoring the anniversary of Little Big Horn, the museum will host the Custer Reenactment, rain or shine, on June 23, 24, and 25. The museum’s mission is to expand people’s awareness of the Western Migration Movement and the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where the Crazy Horse-led Sioux massacred General Custer and his cavalry.

Where to stay: Constructed in 1904, the Northern Hotel in Billings is an upscale boutique hotel, just a one-hour drive from the museum.

Where to eat: Visit Jake’s Steak House for dinner in Billings and Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery for breakfast.

The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 

Adjacent to the battlefield of Gettysburg, this museum is one of the largest in the area, with twelve different galleries encompassing the five years of the American Civil War. Starting in 1860 and culminating with the Restoration, the museum offers different artifacts and videos describing various battles, highlighting the three days of battle at Gettysburg.

The Living History series kicks off June 9 (running through mid-August on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). Visitors can take a shuttle bus to one of the best preserved and significant Union field hospitals from the Battle of Gettysburg. The George Spangler Farm Civil War Field Hospital site treated 1,800 Union soldiers and 100 Confederate soldiers. This summer, there will be doctors and soldier reenactments, historian lectures, and a Women’s Relief Association discussion about the importance of female contributions during the war, among other series at the farm.

Where to stay: The Federal Pointe Inn is a boutique hotel located in the heart of the Gettysburg historic district.

Where to eat: Fidler & Co. Craft Kitchen is located in Adams County and serves rustic, local cuisine from the surrounding farmland.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial – Kansas City, Missouri

Upon entering the National World War I Museum, visitors walk over a symbolic field of 9,000 red poppies. Just one flower represents 1,000 combatant deaths in the Great War. The museum is built underneath the first American monument dedicated to the war, the Liberty Memorial, funded by local citizens in less than two weeks in order to honor “courage, patriotism, sacrifice, and honor.”

Over Memorial Day Weekend, the museum will provide free admission for active duty members of the military and veterans, and half-price entry to all guests. There will be themed activities over the long weekend, culminating in a public ceremony on Memorial Day featuring musical performances and speeches.

The museum offers its “Hands-On History” program every Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. this summer, where visitors have the chance to handle wartime artifacts at the museum.

From June 18 through June 24, the museum invites guests to picnic, play games on museum’s lawn and enjoy the outdoors at sunset during the museum’s “Taps at the Tower” series, linking the Taps bugle call with the symbolism of the Liberty Memorial Tower.

Where to stay: The Raphael Hotel, a boutique property set in a Spanish Renaissance Revival building, overlooks the Country Club Plaza and is a ten-minute drive from the museum.

Where to eat: Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar specializes in sustainable, fresh fish in this landlocked state.

The National World War II Museum – New Orleans, Louisiana

An expansive, three-pavilion institution in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, the National World War II Museum offers visitors an experience of the European and Pacific theaters through a guided, immersive timeline with oral history stations and story points. Because of the museum’s scale, guests are encouraged to visit the museum as a two-day trip (the museum discounts the second-day passes).

With the museum’s travel tours guided by historians and experts, the tours head to historic locations, such as Normandy, Pearl Harbor, and include airfare, hotels, tours, food and drink. An added bonus is that the museum receives special access to select locations where civilian access normally isn’t granted.

Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Canal St., which is a five-minute streetcar ride from the museum.

Where to eat: The American Sector Restaurant and Bar is the museum’s upscale farm-to-table restaurant open for lunch, dinner, and happy hour.

The Airborne and Special Operations Museum – Fayetteville, North Carolina

Located close to Fort Bragg, the Airborne and Special Operations Museum presents the chronological history of America’s Special Operations units. On the morning of May 20, the museum’s annual Field of Honor Opening Ceremony allows friends and families to honor a loved one with a flag on the parade field at the museum, which will be displayed through June 30.

The museum will honor National Airborne Day on August 19, which celebrates the 77th year anniversary of the first jump by the Test Platoon, and the 17th anniversary of the museum. The museum also features a 24-seat simulator, which offers experiences like flying into Normandy with the 101st Screaming Eagles on D-Day and performing a HALO operation from 25,000 feet.

Where to stay: Embassy Suites is just a five-minute drive from the museum.

Where to eat: Morgan’s Chop House has a menu that includes local steaks, as well as more unique dishes, such as kangaroo and alligator.

Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, Virginia 

Although not technically a museum, this list would not be complete without Arlington National Cemetery, the historical site and active cemetery with over 400,000 active duty service members, vets, and their family members buried there. A sprawling 624 acres serves as a scenic tribute to the nation’s fallen and is on The National Registrar of Historic Places.

The cemetery holds about 3,000 ceremonies per year honoring U.S. service members from all branches of the military. The site also commemorates astronauts, nurses, chaplains, war correspondents, and is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, for soldiers whose remains could not be identified.

Where to stay: The Four Seasons Washington, D.C. is one of the area’s highest end properties and it’s less than two miles from Arlington National Cemetery.

Where to eat: Mele Bistro is about a mile from Arlington and features farm-to-table Italian cuisine in a cozy atmosphere with an outdoor patio.


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.


Cuba Travel Tips

In 2017 Cuba is rated as one of the top tourist spots for Americans.  It is getting easier to go to Cuba each and every day.

There are several ways to go to Cuba.  Most folks go on a “People to People” trip. They are 12 different reasons Americans can visit Cuba such as a journalist, religious trip, visiting a realitve, scientific and several others.  But the main one is a trip where you will have a chance to interact with the Cuban people and it is called “People to People.”

You can take a land base trip with a company like Globus or Cosmos.  Also now you are able to take a cruise to Cuba on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and other cruise lines.  Many of the cruise lines only visit Cuba for a a day or two spening the rest of their time in the Caribbean.

I recently took 19 travelers to Cuba with Cosmos and it was a wonderful trip.

Also we went on a American Airlines charter out of Miami.  However in recent months several airlines have been given permission to fly to Cuba including America, Delta, Jet Blue and many others.  However, you still will need to go to Cuba for one of the 12 designations that I mentioned above.

You cannot exchange money before you go to Cuba.  You can exchange it once you get to your hotel.  It is really not hard to do.  I would only get a few hundred dollars worth at a time so you dont have to exchange it when you leave and lose ten percent on the exchange.

By the way when you exchange American dollars into the Cuban Peso you lose ten percent of your value.

You will find the Cuban people so friendly. We met Cubans in many settings and we found them so nice and willingly to help you out in any way.

We all felt safe walking down any Cuban street. Crime is quite low in Cuba and unless you go looking for trouble I think you should have no problem walking around most Cuban neighborhoods.

Expect to find music everywhere in Cuba.  I know when we had lunch or dinner at any restaurant there was some group playing some type of music.  It is really nice to have the experience of listening to some Sala or Jazz while eating your meal.

Some people believe you need to wait to go to Cuba when they have five star hotels. I would disagree with that statement and encourage travelers to go to Cuba now and see what the Cuban life is really like.

Since I was there a few months ago, the amount of Americans going has increased.  So if you want to go before there are crowds in Little Havana then you need to start planning your vacation right now.

One treat we had when we visited the western section of Cuba in Vinales was the Casa Particulares which are bed and breakfast establishments owned by local citizens trying to better their lives.  We found them quite nice. In fact the bathroom where we stayed was more modern than most American bathrooms.  The bedroom was quite nice as well.  The Cuban family cooked us a typical Cuban meal which was so good.  If you have a chance on your trip to Cuba try and stay in one for a real Cuban experience.

It is hard but not impossible to get on the internet in Cuba.  You have to buy an internet card which cost from two to four Cuban dollars.  Then you scratch off the code and find a hot spot in the middle of a town or a hotel and receive your emails.  I had one person who bought several cards and seemed to have moderate success in using them.

If you have any interest in going to Cuba write me at and I will attempt to help you plan a Cuban vacation for you.