Saturday, May 9, 2015

Eastern Caribbean Cruise

 
 
The Eastern Caribbean brings the somewhat mindless fun-in-the-sun experience many cruisers are looking for. Your getaway includes sandy beaches and opportunity to enjoy an array of watersports. Or sit and do nothing with a frosty rum drink in hand. Duty-free shopping galore – some of the port towns have an ambience akin to shopping malls – and casinos, including at the massive Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, offer diversions for those not focused on sun-seeking. Nature lovers will find the opportunity to explore both on land (especially in St. John) and in the sea (on snorkeling and diving excursions).
Cruises of a week or less sail mostly out of Florida (including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, near Orlando) and visit tried-and-true ports in the Bahamas and/or St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and sometimes San Juan, Puerto Rico. Longer itineraries sail from New York and Baltimore.
The cruises are year-round, and packed with families during school break periods.
Depending on which line you book, your itinerary may include a stop at a cruise line-owned Bahamas island, where the sugary sands, beach BBQs, bars and souvenir shops are reserved for cruise passengers only.
Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean if you...
Are seeking sun and tropical heat. Like to be in a popular place with a lot of other people.
Don't go if you...
Are seeking cultural stimulation. Want the beach to yourself.
--Fran Golden is the Experience Cruise expert blogger and a contributing editor of Porthole Magazine. She is the co-author of Frommer's Alaska Cruises and Ports of Call.
Ports in this region:

 
 
 
 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

WELCOME ABOARD THE ROYAL CARIBBEAN QUANTUM OF THE SEAS


Newly Designed Staterooms
Say hello to your home on the high seas – now with more family-friendly modular staterooms that interconnect and the first virtual balconies at sea.

Dining Options
The Grande - From beef Wellington to chicken a l’orange, the world’s classic dishes come together for formal night, every night. Chic - Where the freshest ingredients of the wild are evolved to the height of contemporary cuisine.  Michael’s Genuine Pub -James Beard Award-winner Michael Schwartz brings you delicious yet uncomplicated pub fare, plus his namesake craft beer. Silk - A vibrant tapestry of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian cooking.  American Icon Grill - America’s favorite comfort foods, homespun in our kitchen with a few creative twists.  Sorrento’s - For an authentic New York pizzeria experience.  Café Promenade - This café on the Royal Promenade offers specialty coffees, snacks and pastries in the morning and sandwiches and cookies throughout the day and night. Chops GrilleSM - Our hallmark restaurant now features a revamped menu that brings contemporary flair to traditional steakhouse offerings.  Chef’s Table - A once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience. In this exclusive space, 14 guests will enjoy a five-course menu of gourmet selections prepared by the Chef de Cuisine. Every course is accompanied by wine pairings chosen to enhance your enjoyment of each dish.  Izumi Japanese Cuisine - The traditional Japanese dishes.  Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine - Our chefs twist the kaleidoscope to invent fantasy gourmet dishes, magical elixirs, and more never-before-seen fare.  Jamie’s Italian by Jamie Oliver - Chef Jamie Oliver presents a menu of rustic Italian favorites, handmade with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The Café @ Two70° - An easy grab n’ go, gourmet marketplace that lets you pick the view. Coastal Kitchen - Exclusively for suite guests, a fresh new fusion of California cool and Med-inspired taste. Windjammer Marketplace - A global culinary pavilion that invites you to explore the world, dish by dish. Johnny Rockets® - All the style of a classic ‘50s diner. Solarium Bistro - During the day enjoy a classic bistro plate with a loved one or bring the family to this delicious dining experience that has something for everyone.  SeaPlexSM Dog House - The first food truck at sea, serving up traditional hot dogs, brats,and sausages, plus a variety of toppings to split a long bun.

North Star
Take yourself to new heights with the jewel-shaped capsule that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level. Breathtaking 360° views of the sea and our destinations make the North Star one of the most anticipated features on this ship.





The Quantum class of ships is a new leap forward in vessel design with groundbreaking innovations like RipCord by iFly, the first skydiving experience at sea. And the North Star, a jewel-shaped, glass capsule with a spectacular ocean view. Plus, we're introducing transformational venues like the Seaplex and Two70° that morph from day to night.

Transformative Venues
Experience completely revolutionary spaces that transform from day to night. Play basketball, go roller skating and ride bumper cars at the SeaplexSM. Relax with a book at Two70°SM and come back at night for a spectacular aerial show.
 

 
 
 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Allergy-Friendly Menus Available at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts

Posted on April 24, 2015 by Disney Destinations

New allergy-friendly menus are now available at approximately 120 quick-service and table-service locations at Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts. 
These new menus provide allergen content for each menu item, offering your Clients an easier way to make informed choices. Menu selection includes appetizers (where applicable), entrées, side items, desserts and kids’ meals, and focuses on the most common allergens, including gluten/wheat, milk, peanut, tree nut and fish.
Your Clients are still encouraged to consult directly with a restaurant chef or special diets-trained Cast Member, as this allows culinary teams to take extra measures during preparation.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is the recipient of a FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) Award for dedication to providing a safe and enjoyable dining experience for vacationing families. Our chefs have also been recognized for their commitment to food allergy awareness, education and management. 
The new allergy-friendly menus have already been introduced in signature restaurants at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts. They will debut at other table-service and quick-service restaurants, including Walt Disney World Water Parks, Downtown Disney® and resort hotels, through September 2015.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A New Day For Nassau's Cable Beach



The Baha Mar resort advertises itself as “the new Riviera.” It occupies 1,000 acres along Nassau’s Cable Beach.

Golfers were supposed to be swinging their clubs at the Baha Mar Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course by now and gamblers placing bets at the $3.5billion resort’s state-of-the-art casino.
But Baha Mar is behind schedule, and the Bahamas’ newest resort, which was largely financed by the Chinese government and built with the help of about 4,100 Chinese laborers, will miss all but the tail end of the all-important high season.
Instead of opening in mid-December as planned, the 1,000-acre resort along Nassau’s Cable Beach is scheduled to begin receiving guests at three of its hotels on March 27 and at a fourth — the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar — on May 1. The grand opening ceremony, produced by Jamie King and Emilio Estefan, is planned for May.
“They will miss the high season, but they will spend the time making sure everything will be in place for the next high season,” said Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe. “We feel we will do well in terms of arrivals for Baha Mar and expect high occupancy rates and high room rates.”
When the Baha Mar casino is ready to open, the gaming license will be transferred from the Crystal Palace Casino at the Wyndham Nassau Resort, which occupies prime territory in the Baha Mar complex. The only thing the tired Crystal Palace Casino will have in common with the new casino is the license. “They are totally different. It’s not even fair to compare the two,” said Sands.
Though the Crystal Palace Casino remains open, the hotel was closed and is now being used as a training center for new Baha Mar employees. All told, it will take about 4,000 workers to keep Baha Mar humming. Already about 650 people have been trained at Baha Mar’s Leadership Development Institute.
What the future of the old Wyndham will be is something that will be addressed once Baha Mar has been completed and is operating, said Sands.
Baha Mar isn’t the only mega resort in the Bahamas. Across the water from Baha Mar on Paradise Island sits Atlantis with tanks full of thousands of fish and other marine life, a mile-long water ride and a casino. With 3,414 rooms, it is bigger than Baha Mar, but it was built in three distinct phases over 14 years, rather than all at once, like the new Cable Beach resort.
Though the two resorts certainly represent competition for each other, executives say they’ll complement rather than cannibalize each other. Atlantis, which revolves around recreating the myth of the lost city of Atlantis, is more family-oriented while Baha Mar is expected to appeal more to adults.
Tens of million are being spent on marketing the new resort, Sands said. While Baha Mar is targeting key U.S. cities such as Miami, “we will be focusing a lot of efforts in China,” said Sands. That means enticing not only mainland Chinese, but high-net-worth Chinese in cities such as Vancouver, London, Toronto and New York, he said. Beyond the Baha Mar ads that have begun to appear in local media, there’s another Miami connection. Estefan produced the soundtrack for the short online film The Voyage that is featured on the resort’s reservations site.
Also expected to boost occupancy is a visa waiver agreement that China and the Bahamas signed last year. It will allow Chinese tourists to travel to the Bahamas and Bahamians to go to China for up to a month without getting a visa.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article7066028.html#storylink=cpy


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MSC Cruises to station new ship, Seaside, in Miami

Grandeur of the Seas-Ship Inspection in Baltimore, Maryland


 
 
 

The Grandeur of the Seas sails out of Baltimore, Maryland, port of Baltimore. Grandeur is a Royal Caribbean ship that sails to the Caribbean on 7-10 day cruises. I recently had an opportunity to inspect the ship and I 'm please to report the good news.

The ship offers great dining and entertaining, wines from around the World, Broadway style shows and eight bars and  lounges. Adult only solarium, rock climbing wall, poker and slot, De-stress at the Vitality Spa.

Great programs for kids of all ages, a program for children with Autism with Autism friendly toys and activities. This ship is sure to satisfy, including no airfare for those living within driving range of the Baltimore Port.



Friday, March 27, 2015




This week, cruise line movers and shakers are gathered in Florida for Cruise Shipping Miami, the industry's largest conference. We're on the ground to give you the latest and greatest breaking news and trends.

(3:15 p.m. EDT) -- Asia's hot, but the Caribbean is still pretty darn warm, according to cruise line executives who spoke Tuesday, March 17, about both markets at Seatrade's annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference.

With Asia being the talk of the industry for the past couple of years, it's not surprising that cruise lines have ramped up efforts to attract customers in that region -- China, in particular, which makes up almost half of the entire Asia cruise market, according to Adam Goldstein, chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and chair for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Asians typically take even shorter vacations than Americans do, and nearly half of all existing cruise passengers are younger than 40, Goldstein said. Cruise lines are adapting by changing their marketing tactics and by primarily offering sailings that are shorter than a week in length. Lines also are doing special outreach to Chinese travel agents who aren't as familiar with cruises as their North American counterparts and, therefore, aren't as comfortable selling them to their clients.

Goldstein said the Asia market has nearly doubled from 2012 to 2014, but there's plenty of room for growth. Only 1/12 of the Chinese population traveled last year, and less than 1 percent of those who traveled did so by cruise ship.

With so much of the industry's focus on China, where exactly does that leave the Caribbean?

The answer: In a pretty good spot.

During a panel discussion on the state of the Caribbean, Michele Paige, president of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), said market share is down slightly due to the focus on Asia, but more than 20 million people will still be cruising to the Caribbean in 2015.

While demand for Caribbean cruises remains steady, the industry's capacity in the region increased by about 13 percent last year.

"The Caribbean was, is and will always be the most important destination [for the North American market]," Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International's president and CEO said.

With demand even, the cruise industry is looking for new ways to fill the larger capacity, including trying to draw passengers from other markets, Bayley said.

"We've got demand issues," said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. "I think we're much more focused now on how to find the right target market."

Richard Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA agreed, saying it wasn't that the lines had purposely neglected to market the Caribbean, but rather several lines saw a void in capacity and tried to fill it at the same time, causing a surplus. "Our nimbleness in changing deployment happened at the same moment," he said, adding that 20 years ago, it wasn't typical for cruise lines to move ships around so much. They'd plan itineraries two years in advance and never think about changing them.

Naturally, Cuba came up during the discussion, and the general consensus was that opening it up to cruise travel from the U.S. will help to draw more passengers -- particularly Americans -- to the Caribbean with the promise of something new and previously off limits.

Sasso supported that point, saying that many people don't cruise until they have a reason besides the cruise itself -- theme cruises, group travel, Cuba, etc. -- to do so.

"I think it's hugely exciting for the region and for the industry," said Andy Stuart, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, adding that his boss, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio, wants to be the first to go and added that Norwegian Cruise Line could be ready to deploy ships there almost immediately when the opportunity finally presents itself.

When asked what the cruise lines can do to ensure passengers want to return to the destinations they visit on their Caribbean cruises, Sasso didn't mince words: "Our job is to bring the people to the destination. Getting them to return is the responsibility of the local government, the people and the destination. If the people are smiling and the food is good, people will come back. If not, they won't come back, and they'll write letters to us, asking us not to go there anymore."

Executives also agreed that ports need to differentiate themselves by offering shopping, dining and excursion experiences that are new and different. Otherwise, passengers may stay onboard their cruise ships.

But make no mistake, the cruise lines said, Caribbean cruising is here to stay.

"Cruise lines do not create demand," Paige said. "Cruise lines go where their passengers want to go and where they can make money." So, as long as cruisers continue to crave sun, sand and fruity umbrella-adorned drinks, the Caribbean isn't going anywhere.

--By Ashley Kosciolek, Cruise Critic Editor

Carnival Cruise Line is bringing Carnival Sunshine to New York City




 Carnival Cruise Line is bringing Carnival Sunshine, its first cruise ship to feature all of the line's Fun Ship 2.0 dining and entertainment venues, to New York City in 2016 for 20 sailings between June and October. Carnival Sunshine also will sail a short series of cruises from Charleston and Norfolk.

Carnival Sunshine's New York City sailings, which replace Carnival Splendor's sailings, will range from two one-night cruise-to-nowhere outings to nine-night Caribbean voyages. Sunshine also will sail a handful of New England and Canada cruises including two three-night cruises to Saint John, three four-night sailings to Saint John and Halifax, and five one-week Canada/New England cruises that visit Boston, Portland, Saint John and Halifax. Caribbean sailings include six one-week Eastern Caribbean sailings, plus a nine-night Carnival Journeys voyage.
Carnival Sunshine also will sail from Charleston and Norfolk in summer and fall 2016.
Charleston sailings include an overnight cruise to nowhere in November, a three-night jaunt to Nassau in May, a four-night Bahamas cruise in May and November, and a nine-night Carnival Journeys sailing departing the end of May.
Norfolk sailings include two overnight cruises to nowhere in June and October, a four-night Bahamas cruise in June, a four-night Bermuda cruise with an overnight in King's Wharf in October and a five-night Bahamas cruise in October.
The ship will finish out 2016 back in its current homeport of Port Canaveral, where it will sail a schedule of four- to seven-night Caribbean cruises.
--By Dori Saltzman, Editor

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cruises out of Baltimore, Maryland on Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines





Vacation cruises offer all inclusive benefits. Many discount cruises can include your stateroom, meals, and entertainment costs into one great cruise deal. Whether you prefer constant activities or just kicking back by the pool, Cruises out of Baltimore are a great opportunity to save on airfare and avoid airport hassles.

http://tinyurl.com/nhj5tcd






Monday, March 9, 2015

Cozy cottage living at Bahamas' Pink Sands


By Gay Nagle Myers / March 04, 2015
For clients suffering from the winter blues, Pink Sands Resort on Harbour Island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas may be just the antidote.
Pink Sands opened in 1951 and quickly became a winter haven for the elite, according to Christopher Pollock, general manager.

"In the 1990s, Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell ushered in a new era for the property," Pollock said. "New owners took it over last year. It's been updated but still retains its original feel and ambience."
GAY'S TIPS
• Harbour Island, called Briland by locals, is home to Dunmore Town, a quaint village, the only town on the island and one of the oldest settlements in the Bahamas. Explore it.
• The pink color of the sand is from shells that are ground into sand grains by waves and currents.
• Fly into North Eleuthera Airport on Silver Airways from Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, Fla.; American from Miami; and South Air and Bahamas Air from Nassau. Harbour Island is a five-minute water taxi from the airport.
• Direct ferry service is available from Nassau; seewww.bahamasferries.com. Crossing takes three hours.

The 25-cottage resort set on 25 acres overlooking a pink-sand beach (hence the name) is easily accessible by air and ferry yet far from the crowds.

It's family-friendly: Several of the cottages are two-bedroom units that include a living room.
For $4,500 per night, the resort offers the Banyan Tree estate home with a three-bedroom main house and a one-bedroom cottage, fire pit and pool; the estate often serves as a venue for wedding parties.

"We have 10 lots where we will begin building villas that will go into the room inventory when not owner-occupied," Pollock said.

Occupancy this winter ran at 60% in January, 75% in February and will top 90% this month, according to Pollock.

Guests can kick back at the beachside Blue Bar where the specialties include crab cakes Benedict, Bahamian pepperpot and the catch of the day; dine by candlelight at the Garden Terrace restaurant; and enjoy room service on private patios in the cottages.

The U.S. is the main market, although there's been an upswing in European visitors of late.
Rates in March start at $695 per room, per night, double, in a gardenview cottage, plus 24% tax. Prices include water taxi transfer from Eleuthera, continental breakfast and WiFi throughout the property.                                                            
www.cruiseonebaltimore.com

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Royal Caribbean Presents Anthem of the Seas


Caribbean's Anguilla Restaurants

When you Think of the islands of the Caribbean and images of beaches, turquoise water and steel-drum bands come to mind. Fine dining? Not so much — unless the island is Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory just a 10-mile ferry ride from St. Martin/Sint Maarten.
In its 35 square miles, Anguilla boasts more than 100 restaurants from beach shacks to a surprising number of fine-dining spots, some with celebrity chefs. Last summer the Anguilla National Culinary Team took several gold and silver medals in the Taste of the Caribbean competition in Miami.
The road to culinary fame started when the island began to develop tourism in the 1980s. When its first high-end resort, Malliouhana, opened it 1984, it brought in Michelin-star French chefs Jo and Michel Rostang. Other luxury resorts followed, each with a fine-dining venue. But not all of Anguilla's noteworthy restaurants reside in fancy resorts. A few independents stand out:

Blanchards (blanchardsrestaurant.com) — In 1989, Bob and Melinda Blanchard turned their life upside down by moving from Vermont, where they had launched several businesses, to Anguilla, where they opened their namesake restaurant on Meads Beach. They tell the story of their lifestyle switch in their first book, "A Trip to the Beach," which continues to prompt patrons to show up at their door. "This actually happens all the time," Melinda Blanchard said. "When we first wrote the book, we had no idea it would actually bring people to the island, much less our restaurant." They penned two more books inspiring readers to follow their own dreams, as well as two cookbooks.
The Blanchards use flavors from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Italy, France and various regions in the U.S. in their cuisine. "We serve what we like to eat ourselves and always make sure to have several flavors on each plate to make the dish interesting," said Melinda Blanchard. Favorites include a seafood pasta dish and jerk shrimp with sweet potato puree and cinnamon-rum bananas. They recently added a gluten-free menu. Blanchards Beach Shack opened next door right on the sand in 2011. Its Caribbean cornbread draws raves.


Veya (veya-axa.com) — The Blanchards aren't the only culinary couple to decamp from the U.S. for Anguilla. After an Internet search located a restaurant for sale on the island, "we sold our restaurant, house, cars, all personal belongings and gave our three children each a suitcase," said Carrie Bogar, who opened Veya with husband, Jerry, in 2007. "Many, many people told us we were crazy." The chef, trained at the Culinary Institute of America, calls her style "Cuisine of the Sun," inspired by the Caribbean and other warm climates in Southeast Asia, Africa and India. Among her first courses are shrimp cigars with chermoula and apricot sauce and conch carpaccio with Indonesian rice salad. Red snapper is a popular second course, as is the local crayfish when it's available.
"Anguilla is the culinary capital of the Caribbean," chef Bogar said. "When we first arrived here, a lot of people spoke of St. Barts as the best island for food, but over the past few years, I hear more and more people stating that Anguilla has surpassed St. Barts in quality, diversity and cost."
De Cuisine (facebook.com/decuisineaxa) — Among the newest additions to the island's fine-dining scene is this 18-seat restaurant Denise Carr and husband Josh Proctor opened last December. A chef for more than 20 years, Carr worked in four- and five-star hotels in Las Vegas and Dubai before coming to Anguilla as executive chef at CuisinArt Golf Resort and later as owner of the Sandbar. "I decided to open De Cuisine because I wanted to do exactly the food I love to do," she said, an approach she calls "food artistry." Her menu changes frequently but recently featured foie gras mousse with mango preserve in hibiscus reduction and lobster carpaccio with lime sabayon, avocado, wakame sea air and browned chili butter.



Tasty's (tastysrestaurant.com) — At first glance, this green and purple building looks like a nondescript roadside structure. But the beribboned culinary medals and clippings from Bon Appetit, Travel & Leisure and Gourmet hanging on the walls of the modest dining room testify that Tasty's is a true foodie find. In a local-boy-makes-good story, Anguillan-born chef Dale Carty started his career as a dishwasher at the Malliouhana Hotel at age 15 and was soon hooked on life in the kitchen. "Chefs Alain Laurent and Jacques Borderon saw my passion and potential," Carty said, "and made it possible for me to go to the south of France to train under the guidance of Jo Rostang and later his son Michel Rostang." Carty opened Tasty's in 1999 at age 28, fusing the techniques and styles he learned in France with his Caribbean heritage.
Meals start with warm Johnnycakes before the menus unfold. Seafood salad, in appetizer and entree portions, has sauteed crayfish, snapper, lobster, shrimp, conch and salmon in a basil vinaigrette dressing. Caribbean curry stewed goat comes with root vegetables and Anguilla's national dish, pigeon peas and rice.
Da'Vida (davidaanguilla.com) — The name translates as "the life," an apt description for this combination white-tablecloth restaurant, beach grill, spa and water-sports rental spot on Crocus Bay. Those who think this place is all about sitting under a beach umbrella while sipping colorful tropical drinks — pleasant as that may be — are underestimating it. The fine-dining restaurant won a Wine Spectator award in 2012. Its dinner menu begins with appetizers such as Thai beef salad and expands to entrees of beef tenderloin, rack of lamb and truffle mushroom risotto.
Diners who want something lighter can order tapas in the evening. Lunch at da'Vida's Bayside Grill might be burgers, barbecue ribs and chicken or fresh fish.
Scilly Cay (scillycayanguilla.com) — No discussion of food and Anguilla is complete without mention of this quirky, open-air beach shack on a tiny spit of sand and coral just off the island. For 28 years Eudoxie Wallace, nicknamed Gorgeous, and his wife, Sandra, have turned this cay into an afternoon's escape of sunbathing, snorkeling and island food washed down with killer rum punches that may prompt patrons to get up and dance. A string band often plays on Sundays. Lobster, fish, chicken and crayfish — when they can get it — are barbecued on oil-drum grills.
Getting there is part of the fun: Stand on the dock at Island Harbor, look toward the cay and wave your arms like a fool. If they're open (Wednesdays and Sundays only), they'll send a boat for the two-minute ride to the cay.
For tourism info, visit the Anguilla Tourist Board site at iVisitAnguilla.com.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun

www.cruiseonebaltimore.com




Which destinations might present risks to an LGBT traveler?


 Josh Noel, CHICAGO TRIBUNE
As a white heterosexual American male, there are certain things — OK, plenty of things — I don't need to think twice about. One of them is travel. There obviously are places where being a white, heterosexual American male will work against me (probably the American part, mostly), but usually I'm not too concerned for my well-being in the places I am most likely to visit.
But a stat caught my eye recently that underscores an odd irony: A certain group of people who love to travel is among those facing the gravest risk while doing just that. In a 2012 Community Marketing Inc. survey of more than 4,000 people identifying as LGBT, 79 percent of respondents said they held an active U.S. passport. That compares with about one-third of the general U.S. population.
Crossed with a higher-than-average disposable income, the LGBT crowd becomes a no-brainer of a target audience for the travel industry. And indeed, airlines, hotel chains and cruise lines have been some of the most progressive and aggressive when courting that market.
But the demographic that embraces travel also faces some of the biggest challenges while traveling. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, a whopping 78 countries have deemed "homosexual acts" illegal. That's more than a third of the world. Homosexuality is punishable by death — punishable by death in 2015! — in seven of those countries.
It's a paradox as cruel as it is ridiculous, with potential blowback both small (such as a double take when same-sex travelers request one bed instead of two) and unfathomably large (arrest). Eric Silverberg, chief executive officer of gay social networking site Scruff (scruff.com) said he suspects "almost every gay couple that has traveled in the last 10 years could cite some example of prejudice or hostility."
"Gay travelers are absolutely doing a calculation: Am I going to try to go out tonight and try to find the gay neighborhood or gay bar, or am I going to just stay in?" he said. "If you're going to a city with just a few gay bars, you will be much more cautious as you travel to your destination, especially in the evening."
With those dangers in mind, Scruff has launched a web page in recent weeks dedicated to "gay travel advisories," including the nearly 90 countries and regions that have laws against homosexuality or frequent discrimination. The advisories also can include push notifications; for instance, if a Scruff user arrives in, say, Nigeria, an alert will pop up on a smartphone: "The country you have recently entered has laws that criminalize sexual acts between consenting adult males as well as laws that criminalize gay activism and public gatherings." The alert also notes potential punishment, which in Nigeria includes the death penalty.
"We see this as a duty in our community to keep people informed and safer as well as to shine a light on these laws to increase global pressure on reform," Silverberg said.
Popular LGBT website towleroad.com has frequently covered the perilous relationship between homosexuality and travel, including a recent story about two gay men who visited the Maldives, an island nation south of India where homosexuality is illegal.
"It wasn't as scary for them as they thought it would be," website founder Andy Towle said. "It turned out to be fine for gay couples to book at resorts there. But they were concerned, so they booked two twin beds."
Then again, Towle said, he was on a gay cruise arriving in Dominica that was met by a protest at the dock. He wrote about the experience for Genre, a now-defunct magazine aimed at gay men: "I had heard about the past refusal of some Caribbean islands to allow gay cruise ships to land, but I thought (wrongly) that since then this type of discrimination had been forced into a corner by the mighty power of the gay dollar. Not exactly so."
That was in 2003. Towle said the world mostly has become friendlier to people identifying as LGBT but not completely; discrimination endures in Dominica, for instance, where in 2012, two men were arrested for what local authorities deemed "buggery" (or sodomy) after engaging in a sex act on a cruise ship balcony.
(Brief diversion: in my estimation, the couple should not have done such a thing and may well have been guilty of a crime. But a heterosexual couple likely would not have been charged with sodomy, hence the double standard.)
According to a 2014 LGBT travel survey by Community Marketing Inc., a significant number of respondents said they wouldn't feel safe in even middle-of-the-road destinations: South Africa (31 percent), Turkey (44 percent), Dubai (52 percent), Jamaica (53 percent), Kenya (73 percent) and Russia (82 percent). I asked Towle if there was a destination that a heterosexual person might embrace that he would avoid. He named Egypt, citing a recent raid in a Cairo bathhouse in which 26 men were arrested (and later acquitted).
These are the decisions gay travelers often must make, Towle said: Which places might present risks to an LGBT traveler? To what degree does an LGBT couple need to censor themselves when traveling? It's a consideration even across much of the United States.
"If I was traveling with a partner in rural Wyoming or Montana or somewhere in the Midwest, I would definitely think twice about where I was going to stay," Towle said. "Gay and lesbian people, by the nature of how we grew up, are very used to being aware of our surroundings and how we present in public. It's no different when we travel."
Twitter @joshbnoel

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A FIRST-HAND REPORT: TRAVELLING TO CUBA


by Daniel Levine / February 24, 2015
New York—A few days after the publication of new regulations governing U.S. travel to Cuba, I logged on to the Cubana Airlines website and purchased tickets to Havana using my credit card.

While many tour operators to the island would still like prospective visitors from the U.S. to believe that travelers cannot just hop on a plane and go, that's simply not the case. They can, and they will. The floodgates for FIT travel have been thrown wide open.

Purely touristic travel such as stays at all-inclusive beach resorts remains prohibited. However, any American wishing to visit Cuba may now do so, simply by declaring oneself as fitting into one of 12 legal categories.

The broadest of these is Professional Research relating to the traveler's profession, professional background or area of expertise. If the reason for traveling to Cuba falls into this (or any of the other categories) an American is automatically authorized to visit the country legally, without having to apply for a license.

An opportunity for agents
Direct, scheduled flights may take a year or more to get underway while airline agreements are negotiated, but as a practical matter for individual travelers this hardly matters.

The fact is, many airlines are already offering charter flights to Havana's José Martí International Airport from Tampa and Miami for as low as $329 round-trip. And Sun Country Airlines just announced charter service from New York's JFK starting on March 17th. Others are set to follow.

Especially now, while Cuba-bound flights are not available for purchase directly from most airline websites or traditional OTAs, there is a unique opportunity for travel agents to fill in the knowledge gap and help clients make these arrangements.

While traveling in Cuba is not particularly difficult, it is not for novices. It’s for sophisticated travelers who value meaningful experiences over luxurious pampering. The biggest hurdle for Cuba-bound travelers is no longer the U.S. government; it’s finding a good place to sleep.

Upscale room shortage
Cuba has a shortage of high-end hotels and much of what does exist seems to be already booked, often by tour operators far in advance. This situation will become even more acute as the number of American visitors rises.

As an alternative, the country's newly-minted entrepreneurial classes are transforming their homes into apartment rentals and bed-and-breakfasts.

Walking around Havana I saw signs announcing these "casas paticulares" on almost every street. Some streets sport as many as ten of these logos – which look roughly like a blue roof against a white background – on a single block.

Prices seem to hover around the $25 to $50 a night range. Hotel rates, in comparison, can go to $300 or more. The challenge, of course, is finding and booking these before landing. Here is where opportunity exists for clever packagers to get involved as middlemen for FIT travel.

The Caribbean’s new competition
Restaurateurs and other tourism service providers I spoke with in Cuba are clearly excited by the vast sea change set to wash over the country's tourism landscape.

Conversely, at the last Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) conference I attended, country managers seemed universally threatened by the opening of Cuba to Americans—and the impact it will have on their own number of visitor arrivals.

When asked how many American tourists they foresee, more than one Cuban used the expression "as many as the stars." Clearly this optimism also suggests an opportunity for those U.S.-based tourism professionals who position themselves to take advantage of it.




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