Categories
Cruises

Fall in Love With the European Barging Experience

European barging is ideal for travelers looking for new ways to explore traditional destinations in Europe, and it’s growing in popularity with a variety of people discovering the flexibility with itineraries and the convenience of this method of travel.

TravelPulse recently spoke to John Wood-Dow, director of European Waterways, to discuss the unique attributes this type of travel gives travelers.

European Waterways currently has a fleet of 17 barges that travel throughout Europe, including France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Scotland, England and Ireland.

One of the best qualities of barging is that it provides travelers with so much flexibility and this type of cruising is the ultimate small ship experience, with between 8 and 12 passengers on each ship.

“It is cruising for non-cruisers,” said Wood-Dow. “Passengers can always get off the boat and walk. The general dynamics of barging is that it appeals to an older market with a bit more of a budget. This market is growing as they have more money and time.”

One of the biggest advantages of barging is the flexibility, as well as the in-depth experiences passengers have in each destination. Cruises run on set itineraries but, for those traveling in groups, itineraries can be completely customized.

“It’s really easy to put together a small boat of people 8-12, and once you have booked the whole barge, the itinerary is even more flexible,” said Wood-Dow.

That doesn’t mean that passengers can’t select a set itinerary and join others onboard. Passengers can choose a region that they would like to explore and book a scheduled sailing such as the Classic Cruise—Southern Burgundy, which explores some of the world’s finest wineries on one of the prettiest canals in France.

Guests on this sailing are met in Paris and board the barge for their journey in Fleurey-sur-Ouche and sailing to Escommes. Guests enjoy private winery tours, shopping at local produce markets, bicycle rides, strolls along the canal and tours of chateaus and more.

The barge is like a home away from home and itineraries are all-inclusive.

“Everything is included, we pick you up from the city,” said Wood-Dow. “We transfer you. All food all wine everything is included along with the excursions and the only thing that’s not is gratuity.”

Passengers have comfortable accommodations in en suite staterooms or suites and chef-crafted gourmet meals, fine wines and an open bar are all included as are daily excursions, which include places of interest, private wine tastings and more. Guests also have access to bicycles and on-deck spa pools on most barges.

Guests can also choose themed itineraries as well that include golf trips, culinary-focused journeys, wine sailings and more. And, while barging continues to grow for couples and small groups, families are also discovering this unique opportunity.

“[Barging] is informal and itineraries and activities can adapt to the interest of the different generations,” said Wood-Dow. “That’s what people like and that’s what is harder to do on a bigger ship where it’s not your private space.”

Families and multigenerational groups have leeway to plan their own itinerary if they so desire.

“We let the group know about a variety of activities and we will put a program together,” said Wood-Dow. “If you charter the whole boat, it’s your own space and you can do whatever you want.”

Families don’t have to book the entire barge to sail with European Waterways. On a regularly scheduled sailing, the cruise line welcomes children 12 and up.

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Categories
Holiday

Adventure travel: Let Namibia fire the imagination

Namibia’s vast wilderness can play tricks on the eye. A combination of the shimmering heat haze refracts off the dazzling white surface tricks and teases your mind. 

It’s the third day on my seven-day road trip exploring the central-eastern plateau of this beguiling country. The landscape is certainly mesmerising. If ever there was a place to fire up the artistic imagination, this is it. 

Soaring sand dunes, resembling stiffly-whipped terracotta egg whites, otherworldly mountains of granite boulders, Germanic towns, a wild untamed coastline littered with shipwrecks and immense populations of seals – Namibia is nothing short of spectacular.

In the capital Windhoek, I picked up a Toyota 4×4. A step up would have been useful to climb into the cab, but in just half an hour I’d settled into my private transport for the week, and soon I steamed out of the capital on wide-open roads. 

The first leg, to Sesriem, was about 200 miles. It took far longer than imagined (six hours) but offered me the chance to get to grips with off-road driving and to take in some of the hypnotic terrain – from elaborately-patterned rock fissures resembling the lunar landscape, to a sandy white vista as far as the eye could see. 

In Namibia, it’s the law to drive with lights on and a good job too. Particularly when you encounter another car. Giant plumes of dust signal their approach half a mile out. It’s not unlike a scene from the Road Runner cartoon, with the protagonist speeding through the desert kicking up a mushroom of dust, with the dogged Wile E Coyote in its wake. 

And I never realised how rewarding it could be to wave at total strangers, such is the delight when you spot another car. 

A simple sign marking The Tropic of Capricorn, 23º south of the Equator, sits in a desolate spot. My timing was off when it came to witnessing the sun at its highest, though, so I continued along the Gaub Pass, a series of dips, rises, gullies and ridges slicing through the rockface on the way to the quirky settlement of Solitaire. 

It turns out to be no more than a cafe, tyre workshop (very handy out here) and a corner store. Oh, and a graveyard of rusting car wrecks, their shells seemingly trying to haul themselves out of quicksand. Perhaps they were placed there as a deterrent to speeding drivers. 

It was a welcome break close to the Namib-Naukluft Park and an excuse for a slice of the most succulent German apple pie you’ll find outside of Hamburg. I wondered whether the settlement had expanded purely on the back of its culinary offerings. 

I arrive at Desert Homestead in Sesriem, a charming cluster of 20 thatched whitewashed cottages set around a smattering of outcrops, just as the sun is setting. 

The craggy Rotterkaum mountains turn from golden toffee, to hot pink and finally, deep purple. A technicolour slideshow with oryx and springbok wandering across the plains. 

The clock had barely ticked past 4.30 the next morning when I’m up and off to visit Namibia’s star attraction, the mighty sand dunes of Sossusvlei. Desert Homestead’s exceptional guide, Ziggy, sped over the roads like a champion, for the 40-minute drive to the gate into the Namib-Naukluft park. By 6am there was already a queue of cars. 

Once inside, not only were we welcomed by the most perfect Tarmac road (a treat in itself), but a pristine, other-worldly desert landscape. This was desert proper; perfect peaks of sand, stained red due to the intense iron oxide content. 

Sossusvlei (Soss: place of gathering; Vlei: The Valley) is more than 15 million years old. 

This quiet, eerie place makes you want to talk in hushed tones. There is no life, save for the hardy camel thorn trees which survive for 300 years thanks to deep, deep roots which eke out precious drops of water. Otherwise, the only life comes in the form of a lone oryx, jackal or ostrich dancing across the sandy stage. 

Ziggy points out Dune No.1 before stopping at the 280ft high Dune 45, denoted by a swinging sign. 

I watch people climb up its edge before sliding down on their behinds. 

However, Big Daddy is the biggest draw. At 1,000ft it’s the one we’ve trekked here for, and which is the instantly recognisable face of Namibia. 

Ziggy and I begin the slow climb up. The higher you go, the bigger the reveal. The “dead lake” with its naked, blackened tree trunks standing like art installations on the cracked ground is hauntingly beautiful. It’s hard to imagine anything surviving here, save the occasional oryx or jackal foraging around the car park for scraps.Landscapes don’t come any purer or more extraordinary than these. 

The following morning we hit the road to Germany. Well not quite… Swakopmund, a bizarre Germanic town nestling on the wild Atlantic coastline. I chose, perhaps unwisely, to travel a B road traversing the empty plains of Hotsas and Ganab parks.

It felt like the end of the world and I was the only living thing for miles, save for a flock of ostriches. 

They made the slight apprehension at my being well off the beaten track worth it, despite the bumpy ride. 

Swakopmund is one of those places that doesn’t quite fit. In the late 1800s the Germans arrived, commandeered the land from the local Herero people, set up railways and built a staunchly Germanic city. 

In 1915, following an uprising, they were forced to flee, yet today it still feels distinctly German. 

The language is widely spoken and cake shops selling strudel are plentiful. Its wide roads built to accommodate the previous tram network, the half-timbered buildings and Lutheran churches – even the street signs, Leutwein, and Windhoeker are remnants of another era. 

In contrast, local Himba women from their tribe in Namibia’s north west, are an arresting sight with their red-ochre skin, hair covered in thick wax, and clusters of jewellery covering their bare chests.

They sit on the ground of the local crafts market selling hand-beaded necklaces. 

The seafront is lined with palm trees and bordered by a smart lawn. The jetty, built in 1905, is home to two restaurants serving fabulous seafood. I dined by a window at Pier 1905 on fresh oysters and grilled sardines with the wild Atlantic crashing all around me.

This coastline is also home to vast seal colonies whose numbers exceed 2.6 million; surpassing the human population by almost half a million.

I joined a tour with Pelican Point Kayaking based in nearby Walvis Bay. As our Land Rover cruised the windbeaten mile strip of sand towards Pelican Point, marauding seagulls swooped and stalked the wayward, defenceless baby seals. An unsettling reminder of just how cruel nature can be. 

A prettier distraction were the elegant greater and lesser flamingos, just offshore perched on their bright pink pins and marching in perfect unison, seemingly oblivious to the carnage beyond.

Adrian launched our kayaks as we donned wading suits. As we tried to dodge the inquisitive seals, they leapt up and circled us excitedly before diving beneath our light vessels.

It was quite a surreal encounter accompanied as it was by a backing track of shrieking and grunting from the beach. 

And to really appreciate just how vast this country is, I took a light aircraft flight up over the Skeleton Coast to the bulbous Spitzkoppen granite monoliths.

We swooped down over the thronging Cape Cross seal colony – where thousands crammed on to a small beach – and over sparsely populated towns with no more than a smattering of shanty houses. 

I spent my last night at the GocheGanas Nature Reserve just outside Windhoek. It was a chance to kick back on a “mini safari” in the private reserve, home to white rhino, eland, oryx and springbok. 

My stylish chalet was just what was needed after a hard week on the road, complete with a sunken bath and verandah, revealing the vast mountain range beyond. 

A complete contrast to the tough terrain I’d spent the last week in which did, at times, appear lifeless and unrelenting. 

However, when you dig beneath you can discover riches you never could have imagined – riches that will change your life for ever.

GETTING THERE

Audley Travel offers a 10 night self-drive trip to Namibia from £3,732pp (two sharing), full board and B&B. Price includes flights from London to Johannesburg and internal flights, car hire, excursions and activities including a scenic Skeleton Coast flight and kayaking (audleytravel.com, 01993 838525).
More info at namibiatourism.com.na

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Categories
Destinations

Travelodge currently has family rooms from £8.74pp for the Easter holidays

Travelodge is giving families the chance to snap up a bargain break for the Easter holidays with its latest sale.

The budget hotel chain has slashed prices on over 300,000 rooms to just £34.99 a night.

That works out at £8.74pp a night for a family of four sharing a room.

The best part is that the deal is valid on 573 hotels across the UK. Plus, with stay dates between the 27th March to 20th April 2020, it's ideal timing if you have been thinking of a UK mini break for the Easter holidays.

You can already book on the Travelodge website but the cheapest rooms are subject to limited availability.

There are plenty of tempting destinations included whether you're after a city breaks in London , Manchester , Liverpool or Bath . Thinking of a countryside retreat instead? You can find deals in hotspots including the Lake District , the Cotswolds – or if a seaside escape is on the cards, there are deals on Cornwall too.


  • Travelodge launches sale for Mother's Day weekend with rooms from £28.99 a night

  • Brits' top UK bucket list experiences from Northern Lights to fish and chips

Still, there are plenty more opportunities to bag a bargain as there are plenty more Travelodge deals and discounts worth having on your radar.

For example, families can also find savings if they're staying at one of the brand's hotels with a Bar Café.

There's an unlimited hot breakfast menu at £8.75pp and for each paying adult, two children under the age of 16 eat for free.

Looking for more deals? We've rounded up the best Kids Go Free deals across hotels that could help you get more bang for your buck.

You may also want to check out our cheap UK holidays guide with top tips on where to find the best bargains for a staycation.

Not sure where you'd want to go first? Then our UK holidays page may come in handy with plenty of tips and destination guides to get you started.

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Categories
Travel

Cayman Islands: Low-key luxury in the Caribbean

Soul-shaking scuba-diving, the best beach in the Caribbean and food so good you’ll be craving it for months: How the Cayman Islands became unbeatable at low-key luxury…

Ad Feature by Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Paradise is often an overused term when it comes to holidays. After all, what one person might deem a slice of heaven, another might find frightful.

But when it comes to the classics – silk-soft sand lapped by azure waters, food worth piling on the pounds for, sensational service and more adventures than you can shake a snorkel at – the Cayman Islands are triumphant.

Long known as the financial centre of the Caribbean, this trio of treasures is so much more than a playground for the rich and a cruise ship stop-off; it is low-key luxury served up family style. Just as good at five-star service as it is friendly ramshackle beach bar. 

You’ll be welcomed like an old friend as soon as you arrive at the small airport in Grand Cayman. In fact, it will feel like a home away from home (it’s a British Overseas Territory), and your experience will only become more gratifying once you begin to explore this natural beauty.

Grand Cayman

Living up to its name, Grand Cayman certainly has lofty aspirations despite being just 22 miles long. Of course, it is an expert in luxury, with the stunning Seven Mile Beach lined with some of the world’s finest hotels. But while you can enjoy expertly-crafted cocktails and hand-rolled cigars, there’s another side to the island – literally.

Over in West Bay, water babies and wildlife enthusiasts are in their personal playground, ticking off must-dos such as exploring the beachside Barker’s National Park, horse riding in the surf or searching out shelled friends at Turtle Reef. 

Then there’s the culinary exploration. The island’s menus are a melting pot of global deliciousness: international cuisine including Jamaican, European and Japanese are perfectly paired with fresh local ingredients.

What to do:

This destination is a diver’s dream. Touted as the best in the Caribbean, you could easily fill your entire trip with diving excursions and still not see the plethora of underwater sites on offer. 

A bucket list’s entry to tick off is Stingray City, which is not to be dismissed as some sort of amusement park. Here, on a sand bank in the middle of the North Sound, you can meet, greet and feed the friendliest rays imaginable. First attracted by the unwanted catches fishermen dumped here decades ago, the rays now show up daily for snacks from tourists. Meanwhile, in Babylon, a deep dive into the waters will pay you back tenfold as you swim by black corals, barrel sponges, parrot fish (whose coral chomping makes the sand on the beaches so soft). 

Meanwhile, foodies should snap up tickets to the annual Cayman Cookout. Hosted by French master Éric Ripert, some of the world’s greatest gastronomists,  including José Andrés, Clare Smyth and Emeril Lagasse, gather for cook-offs, taste talks, lunches, beach BBQs and pool parties during the five-day eating extravaganza. 

What to see: 

If you can drag yourself away from bathtub-warm waters and lazing on your lounger, there’s a diverse array of adventures just a short drive away. 

Wannabe geologists should book a tour of Crystal Caves, a labyrinth of glittering crystals – some of the largest ever discovered – at a depth of 300 metres, before meeting the local residents, a colony of bats. 

Flora and fauna fans should stop at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, 65 acres filled with a host of exotic plants, trees and flowers, which have bloomed on the island since settlers first arrived. This is also home to the endangered native reptile, the Blue Iguana, one of the longest-living species of lizard in the world. Make sure to meet Sir Peter the iguana, who enraptured HRH Prince Charles during his recent official visit. 

Where to eat: 

The question is, how many places can you fit in to your holiday? The Caymanians are masters at hosting, so anywhere you choose to eat will be a pleasant experience.

If high end is your bag, it doesn’t get any better than Éric Ripert’s Blue at the Ritz-Carlton. The Caribbean’s only AAA Five Diamond restaurant elevates local ingredients to the heady heights of fine dining. Sitting in the poolside grounds, this elegant, white tablecloth experience is a must for a special evening.

For family style dining, head to The Brasserie, where Executive Chef Dean Max and Chef Artemio López put a very personal stamp on every aspect of their dining experience. So much so, the fresh fish is caught by the restaurant’s own boat, the seasonal salads and vegetables head straight to the kitchen from the on-site garden – and it even has a market! Everything is worthy of tasting, but don’t miss out on the Cayman Conch Salad, bringing one of the island’s most mouthwatering ingredients to life.

Meanwhile, lunch should be a laid-back affair; head to Rum Point on the island’s North Side and choose a bench on the beach before ordering huge platters of crispy calamari, surf and turf, and jerk chicken. This must be washed down with a Mud Slide, a deliciously moreish and boozy milkshake. 

From conch to cassava cake: The Cayman culinary delights worth flying for… 

Conch fritters

Conch is a local delicacy in the Cayman Islands. A tropical marine mollusc famed for its ornate shell, they taste similar to scallops or clams and are served in a variety of ways, including in seafood stews and as ceviche. 

But the favoured way of cooking them is in fritter form. The conch is deep fried in a spicy batter and served alongside tangy tartar sauce or jerk mayo. 

Cayman beef

Marinated in ginger, chilli and garlic, this slow-cooked beef is a Caymanian’s version of a roast dinner. 

Once cooked down, the mouthwatering meat pulls apart and can be used on everything from sandwiches to pizzas. 

Jerk

A lot of the flavours and ingredients in the Cayman Islands are Jamaican-inspired or introduced, and jerk chicken and pork are two of the most popular. 

The meat is marinated in the famed mix – cumin, nutmeg, all spice, smoked paprika, cinnamon, chilli and brown sugar – before being grilled or barbecued. 

Served with coleslaw and corn on the cob, it’s best enjoyed on the beach at lunchtime with a rum punch or two.

Callaloo

A leafy green which is similar to spinach, this iron-rich plant is great with jerk, cooked in garlic, or served with eggs at one of the island’s famed Sunday brunches. 

Lionfish

As the top predator in its food chain, the dramatic-looking Lionfish can cause huge amounts of damage to the coral reef because of their voracious appetites. So, to help cull back their huge numbers, they have become a delicacy in the restaurants around Grand Cayman. 

Once its poisonous spikes are removed, the fish has a meaty taste, making it perfect for ceviche, tacos and fried in sandwiches – and is certainly something to brag about back at home!

Cassava cake

A dense Caribbean bake is usually the centre piece of a celebratory spread in Cayman.

Made from grated cassava – similar to a yam – coconut milk, brown sugar and Caribbean spices, it’s a regular sighting on the shop shelves. 

Cayman Brac

If you’re looking for something straight out of the pirates of the Caribbean, Cayman Brac is it. 

With its moody, craggy bluff, sheer cliff drop and uncountable number of hidden caves and caverns, The Brac (as locals call it) looks like it should be the ‘X’ marking the spot on a treasure hunters’ map.

As different from its glamorous sister island Grand Cayman as is possible to be, this tiny island is only reachable by plane or private boat – and makes an amazing place to get away from it all.

Proud locals, Brackers, are calm, peaceful yet traditional folk, so don’t go there expecting to party the night away with a $40 cocktail in hand. This is a place to unplug and reconnect to nature. Swap sunbathing and selfies for snorkeling, fishing, hiking, rock climbing and spelunking (more about this later!).

What to do:

Unlike most of the Caribbean, made up of miles of sandy white beaches and lush undergrowth, The Brac offers something different: excellent hiking trails.

Make your way up to the tip of the Bluff which runs the spine of the island, passing cacti and aloe plants as you head to the lighthouse to take in the glorious views of the ocean.

If you fancy a less strenuous activity, Cayman Brac is an excellent place to fish. The shallow waters off the southwest coast are perfect for wading out for a bash at bonefishing, or fly fishing as Brits know it. Meanwhile, on a chartered boat you can cast your line into clear waters packed with marlin, tuna and wahoo.

Being a craggy island, The Brac is also unbeatable at caving – or spelunking as it’s enjoyably called. The most historic is St. Peter’s Cave, where locals have taken refuge for centuries during hurricane season. Hike through to enjoy sweeping vistas of Spot Bay below.

On the island there is also Bat Cave, where you can see the collection of roots from the trees above as well as, obviously, its very own collection of bats which hang from the roof of the cave.

What to see: 

Parrots. Your best chance of spotting the national bird of the Cayman Islands is at the Parrot Preserve nature reserve. While their distinctive bright green plumage can make it a struggle to see them in the trees, this is your best bet – just make sure you head there in the early morning.

Make sure to stop by Heritage House during your time on the island. Set in beautiful landscaped grounds, this place includes a replica of a traditional house, similar to the ones built when settlers first arrived on the The Brac in 1833. It also takes you back to the natural and cultural history of the island, through activities such as watching local artists at work. 

Where to eat: 

While on such a small island, it’s only right to eat like the locals.

Luckily for you, they eat the most amazingly fresh old-school Caribbean cooking – and Bracker Barry does it to perfection. Cooking on his old oil drum BBQ, he serves up satisfyingly huge portions of jerk pork and chicken alongside fresh-baked bread. Barry’s Golden Jerk is only open on the roadside three days a week, so make sure to check beforehand. 

More laid-back deliciousness is on the cards at long-running favourite, Star Island restaurant, a vibrant eatery serving up fresh seafood in the form of fish stew and shrimp curry washed down with rum punch.

Little Cayman

The name gives it away. This tiny sister island is so untouched by tourism that the airplanes arriving from Grand Cayman land at its tiny terminal, where visitors can catch a glimpse of the resident green iguana which shades itself off the runway. 

Once on the ground you’ll soon be glad of this low-key greeting committee. This is what escaping the rat race really feels like: tranquil, delightful solitude.

While Cayman Brac is known for its birdlife (it’s home to the Red-footed Boobies) marine life and stunningly beautiful natural scenery – as well as hikes, this is an island where you need to enjoy the water. Snorkel, swim, or dive around the surrounding coral beds in the morning, then spend your afternoon grilling fish, drinking icy beer and lounging in the sun. 

What to do: 

Grab yourself a kayak and paddle quarter of a mile offshore to find Owen Island. This tiny stretch of land is just beach and greenery, but you can while away a chilled few hours feeling as shipwrecked as would be actually enjoyable.

If you fancy diving deeper, tackle one of the region’s most popular underwater experiences. Bloody Bay Wall Marine Park is as exhilarating as it sounds; a sheer drop off point of 5,000ft into the dark abyss. This is an unforgettable activity, as you’ll be swimming alongside stingrays and turtles against one of the ocean’s most dramatic backdrops.

What to see: 

The island by scooter. At just ten miles long, it doesn’t take long to get your bearings, but there is plenty of sea to soak up and store away for a rainy day’s commute once back home.

Head down to Point of Sand, Little Cayman’s best beach, which boasts a tiny pier and all the trappings of an idyllic day alone, as there are rarely more than a handful of visitors at any particular point. 

Simply sit under a palm tree and just ‘be’. 

Foodie’s paradise: Chef Clare Smyth on why the Cayman Islands has all the right ingredients…

As the World’s Best Female Chef 2019, she knows a thing or two about the perfect recipe for creating world-class food. 

And for Clare Smyth (right), chef patron of two Michelin starred Core in London’s Notting Hill, thinks Grand Cayman has all the ingredients of a foodie’s paradise. 

The Northern Irish chef was just one of the culinary superstars to attend the 2020 Cayman Cookout, an annual food festival uniting the best and brightest gastronomists on the planet in the stunning surroundings of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. 

But for Clare, what she really enjoys about Caymanian cooking is the level of pride locals have in their own produce. 

She says: ‘The Cayman Cookout is fun and work for me. I have a deep affection for the Cayman Islands. It’s our (Britain’s) island and I do an annual lunch for the governor at Core back in London. I have a really close connection to the islands.

‘What I love most is to see what’s happening and what they do with the products.  

‘I look to see what there is wherever I am in the world and cook with the ingredients in my personal style. 

‘It’s the right thing to understand how the food gets to the table. I love it – it’s all new stuff. 

‘But the best thing about being part of the Cookout is dealing with the Caymanian people; they are so kind. They have a value in people and really believe in leaving people with a good feeling.’

Where to eat: 

While there isn’t a lot of choice in Little Cayman, that can be a benefit – it means you get to try out every restaurant on the island during your time there.

The resorts are the best places to eat seafood straight from the boat. At Pirates Point, you can dine out on delicious, gourmet recipes made by on-site chefs. 

Meanwhile, another local institution, Hungry Iguana, serves up simple but mouthwatering bar food done Cayman-style. Conch chowder, crispy calamari and steak pomodoro pasta all make the menu, and are served up in one of the most stunning beach side settings imaginable.

For more inspiration for a trip to the Cayman Islands click here… 

Book your Cayman trip today… 

Cayman Islands – British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at the Sunshine Suites Resort from £1,049 per person. Price based on travelling from August 31 to October 10. 

Includes World Traveller return flights from Heathrow and accommodation. Book by March 31. For reservations click here or call 0344 493 0120.

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Categories
Travel

Still the happiest place on Earth — even as coronavirus hits Florida


ORLANDO — The Disney trip had been planned for months when reports of coronavirus hit the news, and leaders of the children’s cancer charity weren’t about to cancel.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: The Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., shown here in January, has continued to bustle despite the Orlando area beginning to feel the impacts of coronavirus fears. (John Raoux/Associated Press)

They ushered seven kids through the crowded gates of the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, toward the pale-pink Cinderella’s Castle. They snapped photographs as the group posed with Rapunzel and Tiana, a face mask covering one little girl’s smile. They screamed through the gentle twists and turns of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and stayed late into the night for Space Mountain.

Although experts say coronavirus poses a higher risk to those with underlying conditions, there have been few reports of children becoming sick. Among this group, accompanied by a doctor who tended to their medical needs, the virus wasn’t anyone’s top concern.

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“When you’re fighting for your life and you have this opportunity to come to Disney,” said Chinos Liner, founder of the Cancun-based Chinos Cause for Cancer, “I think you forget about what happens in the world.”

Beyond the polished grounds of the park this week, anxiety over the virus mounted. The death toll surpassed 3,400 by Saturday as countries reported ever-increasing numbers of infections and global financial markets reeled.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared a state of emergency Sunday after two people tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in areas outside of Orlando. At a press briefing Monday, Vice President Pence did not directly answer a question about whether he would feel comfortable bringing his family to Disney World during the outbreak, offering only: “I travel across this country all the time.”

Four additional cases were discovered during the week, bringing the state’s total to six. Late Friday, the Department of Health announced the state’s first deaths, two patients in their 70s who each returned from international trips. Meanwhile, 278 people were being monitored.

On financial websites and Disney fan blogs this week, observers fretted over vacations to the parks and investments in the company. They raised the specter of Disney closing its theme park locations in the United States — something that’s happened only during hurricanes and the 9/11 terrorist attacks but became more tangible to some after Disney’s Asia parks shuttered late last month.

a group of palm trees and a fence: A closure sign stands in front of the entrance to Walt Disney Co.'s Disneyland Resort in Hong Kong, temporarily closed because of the coronavirus, on March 5. (Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

“It’s not outlandish to think that we could eventually bump up against the world’s leading theme park operator temporarily closing down its iconic theme parks on both coasts,” analyst Rick Munarriz wrote on the investment advice site the Motley Fool. “Even if Disney doesn’t resort to locking down its entrance turnstiles, the growing number of worrisome headlines will eventually weigh on travel plans.”

There has not been official guidance on travel to unaffected parts of the United States or to large gatherings of people. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned the virus inevitably will spread widely within the country, potentially requiring communities to “modify, postpone, or cancel mass gatherings.”

This week, though, busloads of people streamed into the Magic Kingdom, the world’s most-visited theme park. Children cheered as Mickey and Minnie skipped across the steps of Cinderella’s Castle. Costumed Disney characters embraced fans and held them close for photos. Lines for rides stretched an hour long late into the afternoon; conversations revolved around which rides to try or memories of past visits.

The coronavirus was on the front pages of the newspapers stacked in Disney resorts but not on the forefront of visitors’ minds.

“It’s here, right? It’s not like you can bunker down and become a hermit,” said Patrick White, 57, who came from Chicago with his adult daughter. “Or you can, but to me that would be very lonely.”

There was the occasional sight of someone whipping out a bottle of Purell, and park officials reported adding hand sanitizer stations throughout the parks — although few were visible at the Magic Kingdom Wednesday. Employees at two stores said they had none left for sale.

“Right now, all the parks are in planning stages,” said Duncan Dickson, a former Disney executive and retired professor from the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “They’re playing ‘What if.’ What if this happens? What if this happens? They’re making contingency plans.”

‘Still open for business’

Orlando is the tourism capital of the United States, the driver of a $75 billion industry in Central Florida. Even as fear over the coronavirus crept closer, with the cancellation of five conferences dealing an estimated $186 million blow to Orange County by the end of the week, some seemed reluctant to discuss its potential impact.

The city’s mayor and at least one commissioner offered only a prepared statement declaring that the city “will continue to monitor and work closely with the County and State Health Department.” The University of Central Florida barred a hospitality professor from giving interviews about the virus’s potential impact on tourism, instead referring inquiries to top administrators.

Becca Bides, vice president of marketing for Orlando’s tourism bureau, said in prepared comments that there had been “no significant impact” to leisure visitation, adding that 91 percent of visitors come from within the United States. She said the region “does not have direct air service to China or any country currently under a U.S. travel advisory.”

Disney representatives did not respond to multiple interview requests from The Washington Post. In a post on the company’s blog, chief medical officer Dr. Pamela Hymel wrote Disney was “in regular contact with health agencies for information and guidance.” She noted the parks have “high standards of cleanliness” and are implementing preventive measures in line with CDC recommendations.

Similarly, Universal Orlando Resort said in a statement officials were reinforcing health and hygiene procedures, enhancing cleaning protocols and “ready to act as needed.”

In the wake of the first three convention cancellations, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings at a news conference Thursday said the county remained free of confirmed cases. He called the risk to the community “very low,” adding that leisure travel remained strong.

“We invite families and others to consider vacationing here, especially during spring break,” said the mayor, the husband of U.S. Rep. Val Demings (D). “We are still open for business here in Orange County.”

a group of people posing for a photo: Children with Chinos Cause for Cancer pose with a princess at the Magic Kingdom. (Jamie Bachant)

But elsewhere in the Sunshine State, even areas without confirmed cases were seeing tourism ramifications. On Friday, Miami leaders called off Ultra Music Festival, a three-day event set to begin March 20. With about 170,000 attendees last year, the festival’s economic impact in Miami-Dade County has been estimated at $168 million.

Some in the Orlando tourism industry said they fear for the spring and summer months. Orlando Travel Company owner Ashley Moss, whose family has been in the business for three decades, said she had been moving “full steam ahead” — until the second half of the week.

Bookings remained stable, but her optimism slipped as she read news reports and contacted vendors about availability for April and beyond.

“The hard part about this is there’s really no way to prepare for it, and there’s really no way to tell which direction this is going to go,” Moss said. “Is it going to get worse, or is it going to get better at some point? I’ve never seen anything like this. My family’s been doing this for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

At Fun Spot, a small, family-owned park just off the touristy International Drive, carts of people sped up and down the White Lightning and Freedom Flyer roller coasters. It was a normal day, said John Chidester, the park’s vice president of marketing. There had been no downturn in sales or interest.

“I think we’re all waiting,” he said. “We’re waiting to see how the story unfolds. I don’t think anyone is taking it any further than that, because nobody knows what will end up occurring. Are we hopeful? Yes.”

Albert Ko, a professor of epidemiology and department chair at the Yale School of Public Health, said the country appeared to be entering a phase of the virus where people might need to consider reducing unnecessary travel and avoiding large gatherings in close quarters.

At that stage, he said, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive.

“When do you pull the trigger?” Ko said. “That’s kind of the unknown, or the uncharted territory.”

For now, Orlando International Airport remained crowded with visitors. Demings, the Orange County mayor, said in an interview he was optimistic leisure tourism would stay strong, believing that even amid a public health crisis “people will want to travel, will want to relax in environments where they feel safe.”


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Travel

Lochside property with 7 holiday chalets hits the market for £850,000

Incredible Lochside property, which comes with seven holiday chalets, hits the market for £850,000 (the same price as a two-bedroom flat in London)

  • Camus Na Heiridhe is on Loch Leven and looks out over the Glencoe mountains
  • There is a three-bedroom family home as well as 40-year-old holiday chalets 
  • Each of the seven chalets has a lounge, two double bedrooms and a bathroom

A stunning lochside property, which comes with seven holiday chalets, has gone on the market for £850,000 – the same price as a two-bedroom flat in London.

Camus Na Heiridhe is on the north shore of Loch Leven and looks out over the spectacular Glencoe mountains in the Western Highlands.

There is a three-bedroom family home and the buyer will also acquire a successful holiday-let business relating to the self-contained chalets.

The stunning lochside property, Camus Na Heiridhe, which comes with seven holiday chalets, has gone on the market for £850,000

The property is on the north shore of Loch Leven and looks out over the spectacular Glencoe mountains in the Western Highland. Pictured are three of the chalets that come with it

Pictured here is the three-bedroom family home, which was built in 1850

The main two-storey home, which was built in 1850, has two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room with a dining area and an office.

The 40-year-old chalets each have an entrance hallway, a lounge, a kitchen and dining area, two double bedrooms and a bathroom.

The grounds are covered in mature trees and shrubs and there is an outbuilding that has a laundry area.

The property has a private pebble beach and there is planning permission for a boathouse.

Inside the kitchen in the main house, which has spectacular views across the loch 

The owners, who have lived in the main house and run the chalet business for 17 years, are selling up as they are retiring. Pictured is the living room in the main house

Each chalet has an entrance hallway, a lounge, a kitchen and dining area, two double bedrooms and a bathroom

The living area in one of the chalets. The property comes with its own private pebble beach 

The owners, who have lived there and run the business for 17 years, are selling up as they are retiring.

It is being marketed by estate agent MacPhee & Partners.

A MacPhee & Partners spokesperson said: ‘Loch Leven Chalets and Camus Na Heiridhe offer a very rare opportunity to acquire a lifestyle business on the shores of Loch Leven, in one of the most beautiful and spectacular areas of the Western Highlands.

One of the three bedrooms inside the main house. It is being marketed by estate agent MacPhee & Partners

The estate agents said: ‘Camus Na Heiridhe has been modernised throughout recent years and is in excellent order’ 

The modern bathroom in the main house. There is planning permission for a boathouse 

The estate agents said: ‘Loch Leven Chalets is a family run business which the owners currently choose to run from Easter through to November but could run all year round. It has a high reputation’

‘The subjects for sale form a charming detached property with seven letting chalets, as well as loch frontage with the added advantage of planning permission for a boathouse.

‘Camus Na Heiridhe has been modernised throughout recent years and is in excellent order.

‘Loch Leven Chalets is a family run business that the owners currently choose to run from Easter through to November but could run all year round. It has a high reputation.’ 

A MacPhee & Partners spokesperson said: ‘Loch Leven Chalets and Camus Na Heiridhe offer a very rare opportunity to acquire a lifestyle business on the shores of Loch Leven, in one of the most beautiful and spectacular areas of the Western Highlands’ 

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Cruises

Brittany Ferries completes Condor acquisition

Brittany Ferries has become part-owner of Condor Ferries.

The deal, announced last year, had been subject to scrutiny by competition authorities.

But following the green light at the end of January, and work to complete the transition in February, the sale has now been finalised.

“This is excellent news for Brittany Ferries, our new partners and for Condor Ferries,” said Christophe Mathieu, chief executive Brittany Ferries.

“We are committed to working closely in the months and years to come to ensure the best level of service to customers and support to our friends and colleagues in the Channel Islands.

“This will be business as usual for Condor, but within a new ownership structure.”

Brittany Ferries is the minority shareholder in the company.

Last November, Columbia Threadneedle European Sustainable Infrastructure Fund and Brittany Ferries reached an agreement with Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets for the acquisition of 100 per cent of Condor Ferries

Condor Ferries is an operator of lifeline freight and passenger ferry services.

Each year, Condor Ferries carries approximately one million passengers, 200,000 passenger vehicles, and over 900,000 freight lane meters between Guernsey, Jersey, the United Kingdom, and the Port of St Malo in France.

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Travel

Bowman’s Travel Brief: Buy Into Facts, Not Frenzy

The coronavirus is everywhere.

Or is it?

Mainstream media would have you believe we’re all going to die.

And yes, one day, we all will die, that’s how this whole life thing works – unless you’re an immortal and if that’s the case, can you tell me your secret?

But it won’t be this new virus that kills us all. Just like the Bird Flu, Ebola, Zika, etc. didn’t take over the whole world with death.

Don’t buy into the hysteria people.


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Consider the facts first. Listen to the trusted sources on this matter.

You shouldn’t let the coronavirus stop you from traveling.

Are there unsafe destinations? Yes, until we reach world peace, there will always be areas that aren’t safe to visit. And no matter where you travel, it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. Just to put things into perspective, the State Department even has Antarctica ranked as a “Category 2: Exercise Increased Caution” on their travel advisory list.

However, when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is discouraging nonessential travel to only a few countries: China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

The majority of the coronavirus cases are in China.

But yet, people are apparently afraid to fly on planes and out here canceling Caribbean vacations…why?

If you’re legitimately afraid, talk to a travel advisor, and they’ll help you find peace of mind with your travel plans.

Also keep in mind, you’re much more likely to be impacted by the common flu than COVID-19.

And if you haven’t booked a summer vacation yet, don’t be scared by the virus talk. Get ready, because the travel industry will likely be cutting prices and offering discounts galore in the coming months to try and drive business back up.

Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze/cough, don’t freak out, keep calm and travel on.

Has the coronavirus impacted your travel plans? Let me know on Twitter and Instagram: @EricBowman_

Get Caught Up

In case you missed it:

The Coronavirus Outbreak continues to heavily impact the travel industry.

Because of the virus, cruise lines are modifying cancellation and rebooking policies.

And the White House is even considering a tax break for the travel industry.

Disney World’s newest ride is now open. Here’s everything you need to know about Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

The FAA says Boeing 737 MAX certification flight is a few weeks away.

Top Offers

These are the top travel offers for March.

Solo traveler savings courtesy Now Resorts & Spas.

Save $300 per couple on the Canadian Rockies with Railbookers.

Get free nights and $100 cash incentive with La Coleccion Resorts.

Save 15% off multiple room categories at Barcelo Hotel Group.

And as always, for all your travel offer needs be sure to bookmark www.travelpulse.com/deals.

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Travel

How to get a refund on a nonrefundable hotel room


Look at your travel itinerary. Notice anything? Look closely, because your hotel reservation may be totally nonrefundable.

Hotel Room. Yina Ma/Getty Images

What that means is, if you have second thoughts about traveling and want to get a refund on a nonrefundable hotel room, you might be out of luck.

Sometimes, you don’t even have a choice. Consider what happened to Liam Goodman. He booked a last-minute nonrefundable hotel room in New York from Priceline. When the property ran out of rooms and he had to stay at another hotel, Priceline didn’t refund his money.

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“Priceline says I never checked in and was a no-show,” says Goodman, a photographer from Beacon, New York.

Nonrefundable hotel rooms are becoming more popular

Nonrefundable – or “prepaid” – hotel rooms seem to be becoming more common. The deal is simple: You pay in advance for a hotel room, and you get a modest discount. Unlike airline tickets, there’s no chance for a refund, even if you change your mind within 24 hours of making the reservation.

If you’re stuck with one of these nonrefundable hotel rooms, don’t worry. There are actually ways to get your money back. But maybe the best strategy is to avoid these tricky hotel reservations in the first place.

Goodman wishes he had. He could have avoided the trouble by asking his original hotel to “walk” him to a comparable property, which is a hotel industry standard practice. Instead, he contacted Priceline for help – and got turned down. I asked Priceline about his case. The company reviewed its records and discovered that he wasn’t a no-show after all, and the agency offered him a full refund.

So you want a refund for a nonrefundable room?

I asked frequent travelers how they’ve received refunds for nonrefundable rooms. Turns out, many have:

When the hotel isn’t as advertised. I’ve seen many cases where the hotel fell short of expectations. All bets are off when that happens. Take a lot of photos and appeal to the highest level possible – and, if necessary, to your credit card company. If the answer is still “no,” you might be able to salvage your stay. For example, when Heidi Vanderlee discovered she’d have to share a bathroom with another guest in her London hotel, she appealed to her online travel agent. After a lot of back and forth, the online agency fixed her reservation, allowing her to upgrade to quarters with a private bathroom. “Could have been a much worse outcome,” says Vanderlee, a publicist who lives in New York.

When you’re sick. That’s what Grant Sabatier discovered recently when he fell ill and canceled a nonrefundable hotel room in Washington, D.C. A valid medical excuse can secure a full refund. But he had to call the hotel three times before it saw things his way. “This has only worked for me when booking directly with a hotel,” adds Sabatier, the founder of the financial advice site Millennial Money. 

When your circumstances change. Hotels understand that your plans can change. Chris Michaels recently asked for a refund for two nonrefundable nights at a chain hotel in Chicago. “In a friendly manner, I explained to a front-desk employee that I was part of the large tournament in town and that my team had been eliminated from the tournament. I also said I was a rewards member of the chain and I’ve stayed at that location in the past,” recalls Michaels,the founder of a personal finance site Frugal Reality. “The hotel offered to charge me a $50 cleaning fee to get out of the remaining balance for the night. Needless to say, I paid it and headed home.”

When you have a death in the family. Alex Beene had to cancel a nonrefundable reservation when a relative died. The hotel forwarded him to a “skeptical” manager. “But when I offered to provide documentation, he offered to go on and refund my stay and offered me condolences,” says Beene, who works for the state of Tennessee. “Just the idea that you have written justification for canceling a nonrefundable stay will show the hotel how serious you are about the claim.”

What if you don’t have a case?

Sometimes, people just want a refund on a nonrefundable room without a valid reason. And why not? Hotels can often resell the rooms, so it’s only fair that we should receive at least some of the money back, right?

Frequent hotel guests like Anna DiTommaso, who owns a web design firm in Dallas, say it’s worth a try at least. 

“The hotel has the legal right to keep the money,” she says. “But I’ve found that if you have a reasonable excuse for canceling the room, most places will offer you a refund without you even having to ask.” 

I agree. “Prepaid” rooms and nonrefundable rates are not customer-friendly. The discounts are too small and the risks too big. Often, guests don’t even know they have a nonrefundable rate until it’s too late. Yep, hotels bury the terms in their fine print, just like other travel companies.  

Bottom line: Nonrefundable hotel rooms shouldn’t exist. But they do. Now you may have a way around them.

Ways to avoid getting stuck with a nonrefundable hotel room

Travel insurance. If you have to cancel your hotel stay for a covered reason, you can receive reimbursement for your nonrefundable hotel cost from your insurance company. Seven Corners CEO Justin Tysdal recommends a “cancel for any reason” benefit. “It allows you to cancel your trip for any reason you wish,” he says. “That way, should anything unexpected occur, you can cancel your trip and receive at least 75% of your nonrefundable trip cost back.”

Change the date of your reservation. Sometimes, nonrefundable hotel rooms can be changed to a future date. Andy Abramson, who runs a communications firm in Los Angeles, says for some hotels, once you move the date, you can ask for – and receive – a refund. “I’ve used this trick several times.”

Resell the room. Yes, it’s possible. “You can resell your nonrefundable hotel bookings to other people and receive a refund that way,” says Galena Stavreva, CEO of SpareFare.net, which facilitates these room changes. She says hotels allow for changes of the name of the main guest under the reservation. Booking and Expedia facilitate name changes as well. You can recover some or all of your hotel room costs.


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Travel

Nudist braves snow in the buff as she enjoys naked skiing holiday on the slopes

A woman has earned a massive following of 270,000 fans on Instagram – thanks to her jaw-dropping snaps.

Sterre Cordes, who posts under the name a.naked.girl online, is on a mission to spread body positivity around the world.

The Dutch beauty says she “loves to be naked into nature” as she shares photos of herself in the nude.

And her latest photos, Sterre is braving the chilly cold temperatures in French ski resort, Val Thorens.

She captioned one of her photos: “As much as I prefer the sun, beach and palm trees. I also adore snowboarding. One of my favourite sports."

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Sterre continued: "Not an easy sport for a nudist but sometimes you need to make compromises. But if the possibility is there I will ride in the buff. Next week you can find me on the slopes again.”

In that photo, the nudist can be seen trekking in a winter wonderland with her snowboard and safety helmet.

Another snap on Instagram, Sterre is overlooking the whole ski resort in France.

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Her caption read: “The slopes are beautiful today in Val Thorens. A perfect day to take a ride. Quickly eating my lunch because I can’t wait to snowboard again.”

In an interview with Daily Star Online in the past, Sterre admitted she was inspired to strip down after coming across a social media page called Get Naked Australia.

The naturist fills her social media account with numerous snaps of her bare body.

But Sterre doesn’t just strip off anywhere, the social media star goes nude in secluded places or urban areas.

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