Tag Archives: Vietnam

the IBIT Travel Digest 11.30.14

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

The IBIT Digest is back, just in time for the holidays. Just the thing to recover from the shopping hangover of Black Friday.

The Christmas holidays may be “the season to be jolly,” but when it comes to Christmas weather, especially in the Northeast, there’s an awful lot of “Bah! Humbug!”

Our biggest travel holiday time of the year just happens to coincide with the worst weather of the year, snowstorms and freezing temperatures that can cause flight cancellations en masse back East. That can trigger widespread travel delays and generalized chaos across the whole of North America.

Unless sleeping in airports is your idea of a good time, you need to be ready for this before you go.

Airfarewatchdog has some great trips on how to minimize the personal expense and discomfort you inevitably will suffer when winter attacks.

By the way, if you haven’t already bookmarked Airfarewatchdog, you definitely should. One of the most useful air travel Web sites out there.


JetBlue, which has already extended its international outreach by partnering with South African Airways, is now looking toward Asia with its codeshare agreement with Singapore Airlines.

But the agreement doesn’t just give the New York-based carrier entreé into Asia. It also enables JetBlue to link its US-based route system to some of the European destinations that the Asian airline serves.

In return, Singapore Airlines gets access to JetBlue’s extensive US route network.

For passengers, that means one-stop ticketing, easier check-ins and seamless connections between US, Asian and European destinations.

Singapore Air is considered by many to have the best in-flight service in the world, regardless of where you sit on the airplane. Of the 118 categories in which the British airline rating site Skytrax grades airlines, there’s only one — “Dine-on-Demand Efficiency” — in which Singapore Air receives less than four or five stars out of five. It is one of only seven airlines in the world to win a 5-star rating from Skytrax.

JetBlue likewise has built a reputation as perhaps the most comfortable and passenger-friendly of the low-fare US air carrier. It is one of only two US-based airlines to win a 4-star rating from Skytrax (the other being Virgin America), the highest rating received by any US airline.


Think that climate change has nothing to do with you as a traveler? You might want to rethink that once you hear from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

According to Travel Weekly, the UCS has issued a report citing a direct threat to 30 different landmark site in the United States stemming from climate change. Among the sites under threat:

  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Ellis Island
  • The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland
  • The NASA Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral National Seashore in Florida
  • Multiple historic sites in Boston

Some US coastal landmarks and monuments will need new sea walls or other coastal protections built, in the view of one of the report’s authors. Others may need to be picked up and moved away from the shoreline to survive.


According to multiple media reports, Celebrity Cruises abruptly crossed Bali off its list of port calls in late November, citing a dispute with local Indonesian authorities that could have led to passengers being barred from going ashore or the ship blocked from leaving port.

Celebrity Millennium, sailing out of Singapore on a 14-night cruise, had been scheduled to visit Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. She was redirected to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and improvised an extended stay in Phuket, Thailand, as well as a visit to Bangkok.

Passengers who has bought shore excursion in Bali and Komodo are being compensated with shipboard credits and a 30 percent discount on a future cruise.

Celebrity isn’t going into detail on the nature of the dispute, saying only that it put the company’s “legal and ethical standards at serious risk.” The Indonesians, for their part, aren’t saying anything.

This bit of ugliness comes at a time when, according to TravelPulse, Indonesian tourism seems to be booming.


And now, here’s The Digest:


from The Daily Mail (London, UK)
When it comes to air travel and your health, jet lag isn’t your only concern.

from USA Today
Brazilian airline Azul, founded by the same guy who created JetBlue, now flying from Brazil to the United States.

from Travel Weekly
Merry Christmas, Seattle: starting Dec. 20, Delta begins flying directly from SEA to Maui. No more having to fly into Honolulu and then change planes. Wanna get away…from the rain?


from Travel Weekly
For families looking for a kid-friendly Hawaiian resort where they can spend next spring or summer, here’s a bit of good news: at least 11 resorts on five islands and ramping up their on-site activities designed to keep the little ones amused and engaged.


from Travel Weekly
The good news for cruise ship travelers: Cruise lines are increasingly embracing the idea of overnight port stays, going against the grain of the trend in the last decade to turn mega-sized cruise ships into destinations in their own right. The bad news: So far, it’s mainly the upscale cruise lines that are doing it.

from Travel Weekly
Princess Cruises sells one of its smaller ships, the Ocean Princess, to luxury cruise line Oceania, which will refurbish her in France next year and relaunch her as Sirena in 2016. This will be the vessel’s third owner in 15 years.

from Travel Weekly
When Holland America Line puts her new cruise ship Koningsdam into service in 2016, she won’t just be Holland America’s largest ship but also the company’s first vessel — and one of the few anywhere — to offer oceanview cabins expressly designed for single travelers.

from Travel Weekly
American Cruise Lines launches a 22-day cruise the entire length of the Mississippi River, from New Orleans to St. Paul, MN, aboard its new replica paddlewheel steamer American Eagle. Ten states, 17 stops, 150 passengers. A mere $12550 per person.


from the Toronto Sun
In some quarters, at least, it seems that mezcal is now more a more hip drink among the bar set than tequila. Didn’t see that one coming.



from the New York Times
Addis Ababa is a) the capital of Ethiopia b) the seat of an ancient and vibrant East African culture c) Ground Zero for a burgeoning new jazz scene d) all the above. The correct answer is…d.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Good news from Tanzania: International outcry prompts the nation’s president to promise the Maasai they will not be evicted from their lands for a private hunting reserve. The Maasai are delighted. IBIT is skeptical, because we’ve heard that promise before. But for now, it’s all good.


from the New York Times
A road trip along the border that separates Haiti and the Dominican Republic lays bare a tense and sometimes turbulent relationship between the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola, as well as hope for a better future.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Montevideo is unspoiled, un-touristy and probably unlike any other national capital you’ve ever seen. When folks here say they move to the beat of their own drum, they have the beat — and the drums — to prove it.


from the New York Times
New Zealand — it’s not just for hikers and backpackers anymore. A bike tour through the NZ wine country.


from The Guardian (London UK)
Christmas in Europe. Tips for enjoying the holidays in four great European capitals.

from BuzzFeed
A Christmas list for your bucket list — 39 European Christmas markets worth a visit.

from the New York Times
How to enjoy Italy’s compact, historic and lovely Cinque Terre coastal mountain towns on a molehill budget.

from the New York Times
Stalking bargains in a Paris flea market.

from The Guardian (London UK)
File this one under Go Figure: One of Spain’s soccer superstars lists his family vineyard on…wait for it…Airbnb.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:


ASIA: Outside the box

Looking for Asia travel destinations beyond “the usual suspects?” You have several candidates, some of which have been fully opened to Western tourism only recently.

The Asia/Pacific region is so loaded with incredible travel destinations, it almost seems unfair to the rest of the world. Natural beauty, incredible, art, cultures, architecture, fascinating pasts and glittering development, they’ve got it all.

We all know somebody who comes back raving about their trips to Japan or Thailand or China. I could happily spend the rest of my life revisiting them.

Maybe you’ve even been to some of these destinations yourself, multiple times. Millions of Western travelers have done so, to the point of starting to feel like old Asia hands.

Indeed, so many of us have hit these places so often that they’ve begun to take on a certain familiarity. You know, that “been there, done that, bought the ceramic souvenir T-shirt” feeling?

If you’re looking to break out of that rut, you’re in luck, because the Asia/Pacific region still has a lot of destinations that Western travelers — especially American travelers — have yet to inundate.

You may not find as many 5-star, tourist-pampering hotels in these destinations as you would in, say Tokyo or Seoul or Beijing or Bangkok.

What you are much more likely to find are lands and people equally unspoiled by mass-market tourism, destinations that allow you more a sense of adventure and discovery.

All these destinations are familiar to European travelers. But then, Europeans travel the world a lot more than we Americans, so…*shrug*

Exploring these places won’t require you to sharpen a machete and hack your way through trackless jungle (although you almost certainly could, if you wished). Even in the most urbanized settings, you’ll still find lots of discoveries to be made.

Especially discovery of self.

Here then are a few nominees from IBIT for travelers looking to get into Asia while remaining “outside the box” of pre-packaged tourism.

This region is beginning to blossom as a travel destination. After decades of serving as the region’s tourism anchor, Thailand is now being joined by a trio of relative newcomers — Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Of the three, Vietnam has by far the most familiarity to Americans due to the Vietnam war. These days, however, many more visitors are now seeking out Vietnam for its own sake.

The major cities — Hanoi, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to by many as Saigon) have plenty to offer. Those interested in Vietnamese culture may take special interest in the ancient imperial capital city of Hue, which contains multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites.

If you’re already familiar with Vietnamese food, might never want to leave. Incredibly tasty, incredibly cheap. The street food alone might be reason enough to go.

If natural tropical beauty is your thing, check out Ha Long Bay and see for yourself what makes it one of the world’s most popular backdrops for feature films.

Vietnam’s southernmost neighbor is Cambodia, a land that dates its culture by the millennium. The major attractions here are history, beauty and ugliness, all of them equally extraordinary.

The beauty if that of a perpetually green tropical land. History and cultural intertwine in a land containing some of the greatest ruins and temples in the Buddhist world.

The ugliness is the murderous Khmer Rouge, who slaughtered perhaps 2 million fellow Cambodians in the name of creating a vague, ill-conceived agrarian utopia that never came to be.

A visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the capital, Phnom Penh, will put you face-to-face with one of the great evils of our time.

The Southeast Asian nation to most recently enter the tourism picture in a major way is the country formerly known as Burma, now called Myanmar.

After decades of being ruled first by a socialist dictator and then a right-wing military junta, both of which were shunned by the West, the country has returned to democracy, prompting the West to drop its various boycotts and re-discover its charms as a destination.

Having been so long out of the tourism lane, it m little tourism infrastructure outside the national capital, Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). That’s not stopping tour operators — and especially river cruise operators like Viking, Ama Waterways and Sanctuary Retreats — from moving in.

Like Cambodia, Myanmar boasts some incredible and massive religious sites. Unlike Cambodia, more of theirs have been carefully preserved — ornately built temples and shrines, stunning palaces and golden pagodas.

You’ll also find both Muslim mosques and the last remaining Jewish synagogue in the country.

Perhaps the destination for the most adventurous traveler would be Vietnam’s other eastern neighbor, Laos.

The government’s tourism Web site will tell you that “Laos is a country as yet untouched by the modern demands, stress and [pace] of life. Its beauty lies in the Lao people, century-old traditions and heritage, and its lush, pristine landscape.”

There are two ways to read that statement. One is that Laos has not only the least developed tourism infrastructure among its Southeast Asian neighbors, but may be the least developed of them in general.

The other way is that Laos may be the most physically and culturally unspoiled of them all, for essentially the same reasons.

Tourism Cambodia
Tourism Laos
Tourism Malaysia
Myanmar Ministry of Tourism & Hotels

I’m willing to bet you won’t believe me when I tell you that tourism is a major moneymaker for the Philippines.

And that’s just fine with the sun-seeking European and Chinese travelers who flock there for its white sandy beaches and fresh air.

The most famous of those beaches may be on the tiny island of Boracay, to which some of my Filipino neighbors here in the US dream of retiring, the way some Americans might dream of retiring to Cape Cod or Malibu.

But if Boracay seems a little too touristy for your taste, don’t fret. The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. So if you want to find some beautiful beaches where the only footprints in the sand are likely to be your own, you’ve got some possibilities here.

The same is even more true of the Philippines’ larger Pacific neighbor, Indonesia.

Like the Philippines, Indonesia also is an archipelago, with more than 13,000 islands and 33 provinces under its flag.

Of course, the Indonesian island of Bali is one of the world’s major tourist attractions and has been for decades. But with more islands than some American towns have people, you might suspect that Indonesia has a lot more going for it than just Bali.

And you’d be right, because it may seem that Indonesia has almost as many cultures in its national makeup as it has islands, all set amid tropical beauty and Pacific waters. So if you want to get away from the Bali tourist mobs and still enjoy yourself, that probably won’t be a problem.

Whereas the Philippines and Indonesia each comprise thousands of islands, Sri Lanka is mainly just one. But for nearly 30 years, a horrendous civil war put the country pretty much off-limits to mass-market tourism.

The war has been over now for more than a decade and the country is going all-out to lure visitors. you’ll find Sri Lanka officially touting its beautiful countryside and beaches, its heritage of 3,000 years, its wildlife and the friendliness of its people toward visitors.

Farther north in the Pacific, lodged between Japan and South Korea to the north, the Philippines to the south and China to the east, you’ll find Taiwan.

In terms of tourism, Taiwan has long been overshadowed, first by Japan and then by China once it opened its doors to the West back in the late 1970s. But that doesn’t mean this island nation has nothing worth seeing and doing. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In addition to a break from the tropical climes farther south, you’ll find tons of history and multiple cultures composed of aboriginal peoples as well as Han Chinese, many descended from people who migrated from the Chinese mainland after the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, won China’s civil war against the Nationalists.

Its capital, Taipei, is going 24/7, with all-night everything. you can find food, drink, shopping and entertainment literally at all hours. With Taiwan in general and Taipei especially known for the foods available at its night markets, you won’t go hungry unless you choose to.

Any city that can boast all-night bookstores and oyster omelets at all hours automatically earns a place in this traveler’s heart.

As a bonus, it’s a country you can readily get around by train.

Wonderful Indonesia
Philippines Department of Tourism
Sri Lanka Travel
Taiwan Tourism Bureau

So if you’re looking to veer off Asia’s well-beaten tourist path, these are a few of the locales that offer you a ready means of escape — and a chance at some of the most memorable journeys you’ll ever take.


Travel for the dis…enabled

woman in wheelchair on the beach flashing a double victory sign.
© Mauricio Jordan De Souza Coelho | Dreamstime.com

For those with physical disabilities, travel remains a challenge. But there’s now a global industry devoted to helping disabled travelers see the world.

Since I started writing about travel, I’ve fielded a lot of questions about Africa, but the one I got recently at the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show was one I never saw coming:

“Do you have any information on wheelchair access in Morocco?”

The question came from a man in a wheelchair.

Funny how it never occurred to me that people confined to wheelchairs by injuries or illness might be just as interested in seeing the world as everybody else.

Actually, it’s not funny. I should’ve known better. So I started looking into the possibilities.

I’ve seen enough on my own travels around the world to realize that accessibility for travelers with handicaps is, to put it mildly, uneven, spotty, hit and miss — in developed as well as developing countries.

Lots of public buildings with stairs and escalators, but no elevator. Curb cuts, supposedly to enable wheelchair users to safely cross streets, that were barely wide enough to handle two skateboards side by side.

Public restrooms with doors and stalls so narrow that a physically unhindered person could have a tough time using them.

Not long ago, I saw a place using a piece of corrugated iron laid over a set of stairs as a wheelchair ramp. It was steep enough to use for an Olympic ski jump and barely wide enough to accommodate a child’s tricycle, much less a wheelchair.

And that was in Los Angeles.

Still, I reasoned, there had to be some tour operators out there specializing in accessible travel.

In fact, there’s an army of them, specializing in creating independent tours for individuals, family trips or group tours to virtually every major region of the world. Cruises, adventure tours, you name it.

The first one I looked at had already run tours this year to Alaska, Chile and Argentina, with more upcoming to Amsterdam, Italy, Peru and South Africa.

I found others offering “wheelchair holidays,” as well as guidance and suggestions for independent disabled travelers, in Quebec, London, Ireland, Rome, Barcelona, Beijing, Thailand, Bali, Vietnam, Ecuador, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Jamaica, Greece, Portugal, Iceland, Egypt, Switzerland.

And yes, Morocco.

That’s only a fraction of the destinations where you’ll find people working to offer accessible travel. I even came across an outfit that specializes in safaris in southern Africa for the disabled.

If you can do a safari from a wheelchair, there aren’t many places in the world where you can’t go.

Noir is it all about those confined to wheelchairs. Dialysis patients are no longer tied to static locations. An IBIT reader who happens to be both a good friend and a dialysis patient passed along these links to share with you (thanks, kimmers!):

There’s also a non-profit organization devoted to advocating for accessible travel. It’s called SATH, the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality. It provides a lot of good advice to disabled travelers and looks as if it could be a pretty good resource for travel agents with disabled clients.

A ton of challenges remain for disabled travelers, and those who must deal daily with the realities of wheelchairs and braces and oxygen and dialysis are far more aware of the full extent of those obstacles than I.

Also, the sheer number of travel providers for the disabled, in the United States and worldwide, almost guarantees that there may be a few wolves lurking among the sheep, looking to rip off the unwary travel planner.

So you need to check out such companies as thoroughly as you can before committing your money — not to mention your health and safety — to traveling with them. SATH might be able to help with that. So too can the Better Business Bureau and TripAdvisor.

But the fundamental fact remains. Disabilities and all, you can still see the world, and have a grand time doing it.

And if you’re a travel agent, this is a market you need to take seriously.

CRUISE: Autism at sea


URGENT: Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet missing

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200

Authorities say they have lost contact with Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 from Malaysia Airlines inbound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew.

The plane departed Kuala Lumpur (KUL) at 12:41am local time for the 2,745-mile flight to Beijing (PEK). Air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight almost exactly two hours later.

It was due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30am local time.

Four of the passengers on board, including one infant, are Americans. The aircraft is overdue and by now would be out of fuel, according to the airline. A search is in progress.

Meanwhile, the airline is trying to verify a report that the aircraft has landed safely in Nanming, China.

There are two different Chinese cities named Nanming, one in Guizhou province and the other in Fujian province. Both cities are just over 1,000 miles short of the flight’s destination, but the Nanming in Guizhou is in line with the jet’s planned course to Beijing.

The Boeing 777 has been a long-range jumbo jet workhorse for the world’s airlines for 20 years. The 777-200 was the initial version of the plane. Sixty airlines currently fly the “Triple Seven” worldwide, according to Boeing.

Its safety record had been flawless until last year’s Asiana crash in in which a 777 crashed during landing at San Francisco. More information as it becomes available.

8:47pm Pacific
The Associated Press cites a Vietnamese website quoting a Vietnamese search and rescue official that a signal from MH370 was picked up 120 miles southwest of Ca Mau province, the southernmost tip of Vietnam.

9:17pm Pacific
Official Chinese media report authorities there have joined the search for the missing jumbo jet. China’s foreign minister describes his government as “very worried.” More than half the passengers on board — 152 — are Chinese citizens.

9:35pm Pacific
Vietnam media reporting that Flight MH370 crashed into the Gulf of Thailand. “According to Navy Admiral Ngo Van Phat, Commander of the Region 5, military radar recorded that the plane crashed into the sea at a location 15S miles south of Phu Quoc island.”

(NOTE: Until search teams report finding some physical evidence of a crash, this report should NOT be considered confirmed.)

11:53pm Pacific
Malaysian government still considers the flight missing, refusing to acknowledge Vietnam report of a crash. Still no physical evidence yet to confirm a crash. Darkness is rapidly approaching the waters where the aircraft abruptly went off radar, so it may be several hours before we know anything definitive.

(NOTE: While we still don’t know for certain exactly what happened to MH370, two facts raise the possibility of foul play:

  1. The flight disappeared from radar almost exactly two hours into the flight.
  2. There was no contact whatsoever from the flight after the plane dropped off radar.

Aircraft of this size and design do not simply drop out of the sky and vanish. If the Boeing 777-200 has gone down, this one may not have been an accident.)

9:03am Pacific
Media outlets are reporting that oil slicks have been spotted in the search area which Vietnamese officials suspect was made by the crash of MH370. Still no hard evidence that the plane has gone down there. It is just after 1am in the search area, so there will be no daylight in the search area for roughly another five hours.

11:18am Pacific
The Washington Post is reporting that two passengers aboard MH370 were traveling on stolen EU passports, one from Italy, the other from Austria. Both documents had been reported stolen in Thailand within the last two years.



CUBA: It’s time

© Serban Bogdan | Dreamstime.com
© Serban Bogdan | Dreamstime.com

There was a time when maintaining the trade embargo that barred Americans from traveling to Cuba was questionable, then illogical. Now, it’s just silly.

According to the British news agency Reuters, Americans are traveling to Cuba in record numbers, ignoring the United States economic embargo against Havana.


The number of Americans visiting Cuba in 2012 reached 98,000, according to Reuters, up from 73,500 in 2011. That’s a 33 percent rise in one year and double the number of Americans who showed up in Cuba five years ago.

Add the roughly 350,000 Cuban-Americans allowed to visit Cuba — whom the Cuban government counts as Cuban citizens rather than Americans — and the number swells to nearly half a million.

Much of the increase due to a loosening of some of the old travel restraints by President Barack Obama, essentially widening the legal loopholes through which more American can slip into Cuba. And that’s fine, as far as it goes.

The question is, Why do Americans still need to find loopholes to visit Cuba in 2013?

The Cold War has been over for nearly 25 years. Cuba’s patron, the Soviet Union, has gone into receivership. Fidel Castro is in the twilight of his life. Most, if not all, of our Latin American friends have been ignoring our embargo for decades.

And any moral grounds for maintaining the embargo vanished when Richard Nixon put us in bed economically with China.

Human rights supposedly is the remaining sticking point, and one can legitimately question Cuba’s track record on this issue. Yet we routinely allow Americans to travel to Tunisia, Turkey or Venezuela, just a few of the countries where “insulting the government” is a crime that can get you incarcerated. Or Saudi Arabia, where a woman doesn’t even have the right to drive a car.

There was a time when maintaining this embargo was questionable, then illogical. Now, it’s just plain silly.

The US travel industry may not be “raising sand” over this issue, but privately, a large segment of it would love to see it disappear — and when you think about the money to be made and the jobs to be created in this country via Cuban travel, can you blame them?

The airlines have only to take a few planes out of storage to establish new routes from their US airport hubs to Havana. Meanwhile, the cruise lines have quietly made their own preparations, building dozens of new ships over the last decade and putting still more on order. When the embargo comes down, they’ll be ready.

But I’m looking forward to the day when the Carnivals, Royal Caribbeans and Holland Americas start seeing some competition from cruise ferries.

Think about it. Roll on in Miami and roll off in Havana with your own wheels, kick back and enjoy the cruise in between. All at prices likely to be more than competitive with those of conventional cruises.

The only thing needed is for Washington to finally bring a little sanity to US foreign policy vis-a-vis Cuba and grant American travelers the same freedoms taken for granted by most of the world.

It’s time.

Cuba travel: Phony controversy, real issues
CUBA: The rules
CUBA: Obama dips another toe
TRACY GROSS: To be black in Cuba “no es facil”
RACISM: Cuba faces its demon


CRUISING: Up a lively river

River cruise ships
River cruise ships — © Alenmax | Dreamstime.com

There’s a lot more to cruise travel than sailing the seven seas on gigantic floating bazaars. River cruises offer a smaller scale, more intimate, and sometimes even hands-on experience.

The hottest segment of cruise travel is river travel — new ships being built, new itineraries and destinations in the works, new cruise packages being offered. In Europe and Asia especially, river cruising is big and getting bigger.

Cruising a river as a different vibe than ocean cruising. In general, the whole experience is more intimate. If anything, it might be closer to what ocean cruising used to be, before the cruise ships evolved into enormous floating theme parks.

A typical modern river cruise vessel will typically carry only about 100-200 passengers total, maybe as many as 400 for the very largest ones. Your newer ocean cruise ships nowadays carry more than double that on one deck.

That means just about everything on the river cruise — from boarding to meals to disembarking — figures to be faster and a lot less hectic.

River cruisers aren’t just smaller. Their cabins are all lower to the water and every cabin gets a nice big window. The newer ones come with a balcony, as well, the better to take in the views.

When you cruise the world’s oceans, there will be days when all you see is ocean. Endless sea, endless sky, air that doesn’t smell like auto exhaust. If you’re lucky, maybe a few or a few hundred dolphins showing off beneath you. For some folks — and I’m one of them — that’s plenty entertainment enough.

Lots of other folks aren’t nearly that easily amused at sea, however. The cruise lines know it, and they’re designing their newer ships accordingly.

The two biggest lines today, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, are so worried that their thousands of passengers might grow bored that they’ve spent the last decade or so transforming their ships into floating entertainment centers — restaurant districts, amusement parks, theaters and shopping malls at sea. Not to mention the bars and casinos, of course.

The only thing missing, mercifully, is the parking lot.

You won’t find all that hype aboard a river cruiser. The river itself, and the lands through which it passes, are the stars of the show. And unlike an ocean cruise, when you’re plying a great river, the scenery changes by the day, the hour, the minute.

Towering skylines give way to towering forests, mountains, sand dunes, farm fields, vineyards. Above the banks of European rivers, you may spy castles, cathedrals. In Asia, perhaps ancient temples. In Africa, wildlife.

Vessels of all kinds, from small pleasure boats to low-slung barges laden with cargo, huge freighters and tankers, and even the occasional sea-going cruise giant, form lines of traffic that literally flow on either side of you.

You’ll also see people — working, playing, living on and with the river.

I discovered all this, oddly enough, during a Caribbean cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. The cruise originated in New Orleans, which meant that the first day was spent slowly negotiating a hundred miles of the twisting, turning Mississippi River.

Around every serpentine bend, it seemed, there was something waiting to hook your attention — a massive oil refinery here, a historic battlefield there, huge commercial vessels flying the flags of seemingly half the United Nations.

Who needs a television in the cabin when the best show going is right outside?

And river cruises offer shore excursions, just like than sea-going counterparts.

Nor is river cruising a one-size-fits-all affair. As small as most river cruise vessels are compared with oceangoing cruise ships, you can go smaller still, aboard commercial barge converted to carry passengers, some carrying as few as six. You’ll see a lot of these in Europe, plying the smaller rivers and canals long abandoned by most commercial traffic.

The pace is leisurely enough that you can take a bike ashore and ride ahead, exploring the countryside and stopping in villages along the way, then re-boarding downstream in time for lunch or dinner.

In places where old hand-cranked locks help raise and lower barges along the canals, you can even get off the barge and lend a hand cranking the gates open and closed.

Unlike the ocean cruise industry, which is dominated by a relative handful of giant companies, there are far more river cruise operators around the world. Some sail in multiple regins around the world, while others limit themselves to a single country or continent:

Ama Waterways (Europe, Asia, Africa)
Avalon Waterways (Europe, Asia, Africa, USA)
Grand Circle Travel (Europe)
Tauck (Europe)
Uniworld (Europe, Asia, Africa)
Vantage Travel (Europe, Asia)
Viking River Cruises (Europe, Asia, Africa)
President Cruises (China)

Europe is the old-school venue for river cruising, and you can cruise the Amazon River in South America, as well as Russia. But the hot new river cruise market is in Asia.

The growth of tourism in China and Vietnam, coupled with the opening up of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is opening up ancient river and breathtakingly beautiful country little seen by Western travelers. It’s the reason river cruise lines like Viking are busily building new ships.

China in particular is offering tour packages that include not only Yangtze River and Three Gorges cruises, but airfare to and from China as part of the package, sometimes for substantially less than $2,000 per person.

Indeed, the one country that seems to be lagging when it comes to river cruising is the United States, which has some of the world’s major rivers — including the one that Native Americans dubbed “the father of waters,” the Mississippi.

What you find mainly in this country is a relative handful of steamboat cruises, aboard actual old-time steamboats or modern replicas of them. The theme is almost always the same, trying to re-create the ambiance of Old South. Antebellum 2.0, so to speak. Mansions, plantations, cotton and sugar cane fields. Slavery. Ah, the “good old days.”

I’ll pass.

IBIT says: Until somebody comes along to make river cruising as modern and attractive here in the States as it is elsewhere in the world — without the sanitized version of US history as a bonus — I’ll look Europe, South America and Asia for a chance to head upriver.

CRUISE TRENDS 2013: The heat is on


the IBIT Travel Digest 2.10.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Hong Kong fireworks
Hong Kong fireworks — © Farang | Dreamstime.com

Wishing peace, health and prosperity to our IBIT friends in China and Chinatowns around the world as they ring in the Year of the Snake on this Lunar New Year.

Every so often, I go back through old digests of mine to look for recurring themes — and if you’re a regular reader of the IBIT Travel Digest, there’s at least one you’ve spotted already. Nearly every digest, it seems, features at least one mention of food or drink.

So starting today, FOOD & DRINK gets its own section in the digest — and it kicks off with two subjects equally dear to my heart and my tastebuds.

New Orleans was a foodie town long before someone invented the term “foodie.” The word itself is out of favor these days among the blogerati (not that I give a damn), but the NOLA’S flare for flavor will never die.

From its beginnings, New Orleans cuisine has blended a mélange of influences — French, Spanish, Native American, African, Italian, Irish. Starting with the 1980s, though, a new taste fell into the city’s gumbo pot — the flavors of Vietnam.

San Diego was the first American city to receive South Vietnamese refugees en masse following the 1975 fall of Saigon, which made it the first to be exposed to Vietnamese dishes in a big way.It didn’t take long for pho and banh mi, with their fresh ingredients and vibrant mix of flavors, to become staples here.

And for you gumbo purists out there (and you know who you are): Yes, they do put in okra on request.

But while the Vietnamese cuisine tsunami was washing over San Diego, other refugees gravitated to the Gulf of Mexico to resume their lives as fishermen. Inevitably, many settled in New Orleans.

A city that already treated po’boys and gumbo as basic food groups had little trouble embracing pho soups and banh mi sandwiches. And among the Vietnamese and their descendants who grew up in the NOLA, the feeling seems to be mutual, as the New York Times recently discovered.

Today, within an easy drive from my house in San Diego are at least two Vietnamese restaurants whose menu is a mix of Vietnamese and New Orleans Creole dishes, run together by people from both locales. The nearest one features a daily special that includes half a banh mi and a bowl of gumbo.

But the best place to see the result of this marriage of cultures is in the Crescent City itself and you’ll see it below in the inaugural FOOD & DRINK section of the IBIT Travel Digest.

IBIT says: Bon appétit…or perhaps, chúc ngon miệng!


Back at the turn of the 20th century, as Europe was plunging into the first of its two disastrous world wars, Paris witnessed the arrival of blacks from America, mostly soldiers, who brought with them a style of music Parisians had never heard before.

The Americans called it jazz, and Paris promptly fell in love with it. And as Jonathan Lorie discovered when he went roaming Ernest Hemingway’s old Parisian haunts for London’s The Guardian newspaper, the love still burns.

Jazz may be an American invention — perhaps the best of all American inventions — but there may be no better place to enjoy it than Paris. And as you’ll see in Lorie’s article, there are a lot of venues in the City of Light where you can enjoy it.

Lorie’s piece also links four other famed Jazz Age authors — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham — and their jazz hangouts from New York to Germany and even Sri Lanka.

But if all these folks were still around today, they all might leave their hearts in San Francisco. The reason is SFJAZZ, which opened late last month in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood.

It is the first concert hall in the United States — and maybe the world — built expressly for jazz. It features an auditorium, an ensemble room, rehearsal areas, a digital learning lab, and even a sidewalk cafe.

IBIT says: Hemingway would’ve dug it…once he got used to the no-smoking rule.


USA Today reports that Kate Hanni, head of the airline consumer organization FlyersRights.org, is stepping down as the group’s executive director, walking away from the outfit she founded in 2006.

You can read the entire USA Today story here.

She formed Flyers Rights after being stuck on the tarmac aboard an American Airlines flight in Austin, TX — for nearly nine hours — and getting little more than lip service from the airline. Her outspoken efforts since then led to federal regulations governing how the airlines handle flight delays.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Hanni didn’t make a lot of friends in the airline industry during her time with Flyers Rights, but she did prove that consumers who organize at the grassroots and speak truth to power can make a difference.

IBIT says: Thanks for all you did, Kate, and all you tried to do.


And now, here’s The Digest:

from the Los Angeles Times
In the eternal hunt for airfare bargains, booking too early can be as costly as booking too late.

from Travel Weekly
You may soon be able to watch in-flight shows and movies on-demand on Southwest Airlines flights, streamed to your own personal electronic devices. That’s the good news. The bad news? You’ll be paying extra for it.

from Budget Travel
A survey of travel agents says that when it comes to booking their clients on connecting flights, Atlanta-Hartsfield is one of their most favorite airports. It’s also one of their least favorite airports. Am I confused? No. I’m just booking non-stops.

from Travel Weekly
Frequent-flier miles…from an airport? Starting in June, the parking, food, merchandise or airport hotel stay you buy at Dallas-Ft. Worth International (DFW) will count toward airline miles.

from FareCompare
When is a “free” airline ticket not really free at all? FareCompare’s Rick Seaney counts the ways, and there are five of them.

from Condé Nast Traveler
The world’s ten most beautiful train stations, according to CN Traveler, right on time as New York’s Grand Central Terminal marks its 100th anniversary. Some are classic, others ultra-modern, and some brilliantly mix old and new. SLIDESHOW

from Travel Weekly
For the third time since it first opened in 1981, San Francisco is set to expand its Moscone convention center.

from the New York Times
Lust and luxury aboard the Queen Mary 2. Just don’t call it a “cruise.” It’s just not done, you know…

from Travel Weekly
Kai Tak, Hong Kong’s old airport, where almost every landing seemed like an adventure, is returning to the travel business — this time as a gleaming $1 billion cruise ship terminal that can handle the largest vessels in the business, even Royal Caribbean’s behemoth Oasis-class ships.

from the New York Times
In New Orleans, they know their pho — and their yaka mein. If you don’t know either, read up. WARNING: Your mouth may involuntarily water while reading.


from Travel Weekly
The Radisson hotel chain opens its first Radisson Blu hotel in Mozambique.

from TechZim (Zimbabwe)
New travel startup, Zimbabwe Bookers, aims to make finding hotel rooms easier for travelers in one of Africa’s growing tourist markets.

from Tanzania Daily News (Tanzania) via allAfrica.com
Tanzania draws up plans to aggressively promote tourism in overseas markets. Its top four markets — Britain, the United States, Germany and Italy.

from Angola Press via allAfrica.com
Angola’s environmental agency building bungalows, other facilities in the country’s national parks in a bid to boost ecotourism.

from The Guardian (London UK)
When your mother takes you on a sailing excursion to Central America at the age of six, just the two of you — and it lasts for four years — school field trips may have a hard time holding your attention after that.

from the New York Times
A look at San Juan, Puerto Rico, starting with one of my favorite spots — Condado Lagoon. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
Are you into “Girls?” I’m referring here to the HBO hit TV series, set in Brooklyn. A look at the neighborhoods that give the show its inspiration.

from the Washington Post
Singapore spent so many decades living with the reputation of being the straight-laced capital of Asia, that it’s hard to imagine this city-state having a quirky side. But it does have one. Yes, it does.

from France 24
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of…graffiti? The city’s Shoreditch neighborhood is becoming a mecca for lovers of street art.

Edited by P.A.Rice


the IBIT Travel Digest 12.23.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

Tongli, China's ancient Venice | ©IBIT/G. Gross
Tongli, China’s ancient Venice | ©IBIT/G. Gross

River cruising has long been a travel staple in Europe and shows little sign of slowing down. But cruise lines and tour companies increasingly are looking to Asia as the Next Big Thing in cruising.

According to USA Today, Viking River Cruises, one of the biggest names in European river cruising, has already announced plans to offer river cruises in Myanmar and Thailand, starting in 2014.

Others aren’t waiting that long. Travel Daily News.Asia is reporting that Travel Indochina is already adding Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Laos to a river cruise itinerary that already includes Vietnam, Cambodia and Yangtze River cruises in China.

With increasing world interest in Asia and growing middle classes in Asian countries with money to spend and a desire to see more of their own homelands, Asian river cruising could be a hot market for years to come.


So far, this is one of life’s ailments that has mercifully passed me by. But there are plenty of people who suffer with this — and “suffer” is the operative term.

At the least, it can seriously interfere with your ability to enjoy travel. At its worst, it may prevent you from traveling altogether.

We’ve all had our share of laughs about motion sickness. Even Hollywood films and cartoons have gotten in on the levity. But every time I see the airsickness bag on the airplane or see folks on cruise ships with that little scopolamine patch on their necks, I’m reminded that motion sickness is no joke.

It’s a physical misunderstanding. Your inner ear tells your brain, “We’re moving!” Your eyes are saying, “No, we’re not!” Your stomach wishes they’d both shut the hell up.

There’s no real cure for motion sickness, but there are ways you can deal with this, and the New York Times breaks it all down at length in this article.

Their suggestions may not rid you of this curse, but they might make life a little easier for you, or your kids.


A lot of us travel with a lot of electronic gear — smartphones, iPods, tablets. They make us productive during those long flights, or at least keep us from dying of boredom.

But even if they’re fully charged when we leave for the airport, their batteries may be no match for that 10-hour or 12-hour transcontinental flight. And finding an available electrical outlet in a crowded terminal during an unexpected delay can be…well…challenging.

Which is why the Summit 3000 battery pack caught my attention. As Smarter Travel points out, it’s neither very light or really cheap, but if you need to keep your devices running in places where a plug isn’t handy, you may be glad you have this.

One especially cool feature is that it’s dual-voltage, which means you can use it overseas with no hassle; all you need is a plug adaptor for the country you’re in. And if you travel with electronic gear, odds are you already have some of those.

Still, it isn’t powerful enough to charge a laptop, which leaves my black MacBook feeling neglected and resentful.


Traveling with pets is always tricky, especially if the pet is a cat. It’s tough enough on the sensitive little critters, even without having to deal with the TSA — which actually lost one traveler’s cat in New York JFK airport.

There’s nothing we can do about the TSA, but there are things cat owners can do to make travel easier on their beloved felines, and the folks at Smarter Traveler lay out their suggestions in this slideshow.


If your Boeing and you want to test how well in-flight wifi works aboard your aircraft, what sort of exotic, sophisticated, state-of-the-art testing equipment do you use?

Why, potatoes, of course — 20,000 pounds of potatoes, right on the passenger seats.

And as proof that I’m neither crazy nor making this stuff up, check out this CNN story on Boeing’s wifi tests.

And please, no mashup jokes.

And now, here’s The Digest:

from Travel Weekly
Don’t look now, but your already miserable experience getting through airport security could get a lot worse two weeks into 2013. It’s all about your driver’s license and an eight-year-old federal law that gone unenforced — until now. IBIT will be exploring this in depth shortly.

from the Washington Post
Spas. Yoga. Luxury food. Fine dining. An international resort? You’ll increasingly find these high-end amenities in the last place you’d look for them — American airports.

from Christopher Elliot
Is the TSA doomed? A respected consumer writer says the powers that be have heard the traveling public’s gripes — and they’re paying attention.

from Smarter Travel
Seven ways to avoid airline baggage fees. SLIDESHOW

from the New York Times
Have you ever longed to explore ancient historic sites, without having to contend with mobs of tourists? Here are five spots around the world where your wish may come true…for now, anyway.

from Gadling
Cruise travel is rebounding from a rough year.

from Travel Weekly
Are the Viking River Cruises people building a navy or what? Already with ten new cruise ships on order for next year, they’ve already committed to eight more in 2014. That makes 24 new river cruisers in three years. But given Viking’s interest in Asia (see above), it makes perfect sense.


from The New Times (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
The national airlines of Kenya and Rwanda hook up in a strategic partnership that eventually could stremaline regional air travel between eastern and central Africa.

from The Point (Gambia) via allAfrica.com
A village on a pristine coastal stretch of the Gambia becomes the anchor point of an ambitious experiment in ecotourism.

from Vanguard (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
A state government in Nigeria wants to turn the site of the country’s first recorded plane crash into a tourist attraction. Uhhh…

from The Guardian (London UK)
We think of New Orleans mostly as a grown-ups’ playground, but come Christmastime, it becomes a magical place for kids.

from SFGate.com
Good news from Mexico: There’s a hotel building boom underway in Cancun.

from the Washington Post
A foodie’s tour of Peru. SLIDESHOW

from the Sacramento Bee
Hollywood has its stars, but in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert, you’ll get an unrestricted view of the real ones.

from CNNgo
Riding waves of modernization, gentrification and newly made Chinese money, there’s never been a better time to visit Hong Kong. An insider’s look at one of the world’s perpetually energized destinations.

from CCTV (China)
China and Nepal sign a commitment to promote tourism between the two countries.

from the Jakarta Post (Indonesia)
Have you ever poured Thousand Island dressing on your salad and wondered if such a place actually exists? It does. It’s in Indonesia, and the governor of the nation’s capital, Jakarta, would love to see the Thousand Islands region become a tourist attraction.

from the New York Times
Walk through history in the ancient city of Toledo, a city holy to Catholics in Spain. Its religious importance saw it escape multiple wars almost untouched.

from The Guardian (London UK)
How Vienna waltzes through Christmas.

from The Guardian (London UK)
The world’s oldest monument was discovered only about a decade ago. It’s 11,000 years old. And it’s in Turkey.

from the Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette (IL)
For most travelers interested in Europe, Slovenia doesn’t register as a worthwhile destination. And that’s kind of a shame.


the IBIT Travel Digest 11.25.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Strasbourg Christmas lights stand
Shopping for Christmas lights, Strasbourg, France | @copy;IBIT/G. Gross


The so-called “Arab Spring” may have brought political change to North Africa and the Middle East, but it’s bringing little good cheer to the travel industry. The ongoing turmoil in that part of the world continues to make it — justly or unjustly — a no-go zone in the eyes of many travelers.

Travel Weekly reports that between now and next April, Norwegian Cruise Line is dropping Egypt from its 10- and 11-day cruises, scheduling port calls in Istanbul, Crete and Naples in its place.

And NCL came to that decision before Egypt’s new president got involved in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and then tangled with his own nation’s judiciary over sweeping new powers he claimed…for himself.

Bottom line: Many of the countries now being avoided by travelers and travel companies alike may be perfectly safe to visit, but it may be a good while yet before the traveling public perceives them that way.


Anyone who tells you Americans don’t take trains hasn’t been to a train station lately. IBIT has and I can tell you, they’re busy.

Amtrak’s business year officially closed out on Sept. 30, and it closed on all high notes, starting with this one: 31.2 million passengers for fiscal 2012.

Two things make that number important. First, it’s the highest ridership for Amtrak since it came into being in 1971. Second, it’s the ninth year in a row that Amtrak has set a new ridership mark.

While you’re at it, smoke this over: Between 2000 and 2012, Amtrak ridership has risen by 49 percent.

You’ll find the rest of Amtrak’s glowing figures in the corporation’s press release here.

A lot of airline CEOs would kill for numbers like these. Then again, the misery that is present-day air travel in the United States is a big reason why more people are turning to trains in the first place.


You know those customer-satisfaction surveys by J.D. Power & Associates, the ones that companies always tout in TV commercials to show how wonderful they are? Here’s one you won’t be seeing anytime soon, from anybody.

With hotel business picking up, J.D. Power decided to survey hotel guests. Those guests put the hotel industry on blast. Low-end, high-end, no one was spared:

“Satisfaction with check-in/check-out; food and beverage; hotel services; and hotel facilities are at new lows since the 2006 study and satisfaction with guest room has declined within one point of its lowest level in the past seven years.”

If I’m that guy at Motel 6 and I hear that, I’m leaving the light on because I can’t sleep. How did this happen?

Here’s a clue, courtesy of Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann: Most of the top hotels in the country aren’t owned by real “hotel people” anymore.

They’re owned by private equity companies, which specialize in boosting profits by cutting costs — mainly by cutting staff and lowering service levels — before selling off the business to someone else.

That may be necessary when you’ve got hotels full of empty rooms at the height of a recession, but to keep doing it after your customers start coming back? Not smart, as J.D. Power vice-president Stuart Greif gently points out:

“Hoteliers need to get back to the fundamentals and improve the overall guest experience. Charging guests more and providing less is not a winning combination.”


And now, here’s The Digest:

from Travel Weekly
Qatar Airways joins oneworld, the world’s number two airline alliance. QA joins Malaysia Airlines and SriLankan Airlines as members-elect. It’s a big deal for Asian air travel and a big boost for oneworld, but the announcement is overshadowed by the ongoing beef between American Airines and its pilots.

from Travel Weekly
The Middle East may still be too hot politically for some travelers, but that’s not stopping three major Persian Gulf airlines from building alliances with European carriers.

from Travel Weekly
Southwest Airlines will start flying this spring from Florida to Puerto Rico. Officially, it’s a simple takeover of existing service from AirTran, which Southwest bought. But as its first air service outside the continental United States, it’s a big step.

from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pickpockets in Spain, gypsy cabs in Rome and other avoidadable travel scams.

from Travel Weekly
JW Marriott opens the world’s tallest hotel in Dubai. How tall? About eight stories shorter than the Empire State Building in New York. Yep, that’s tall, all right.

from Independent Traveler.com
Lots of folks have tips on how best to travel with kids — but what about traveling with grandkids?

from NBC News
Honeymoons…with friends? Really? Yes, really.

from Cruise Critic
Cruising for grown-ups. Seven options for sailing without the kids.

from Travel Weekly
Norwegian Cruise Line is going all Grinch on Hawai’i. Seeing strong demand for its Hawaiian cruises, NCL is raising its Hawai’i cruise prices 10 percent starting Jan 1, 2013. Merry Christmas…

from Gadling
Travel insurance is one purchase a lot of cruise travelers try to do without. Don’t. But have a clear understanding of what travel insurance will and won’t do for you.


from the Ethiopian Press Agency via allAfrica.com
Addis Ababa starting to become a destination for conference travel.

from The Herald (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com
The justly famed Victoria Falls are starting to get some serious competition as a tourist attraction from the Mana Pools. Chinese tourists in particular just love this spot.

from allAfrica.com
Citizen of Vietnam caught in Mozambique with a half-dozen rhino horns in his possession. Wonder how to say “You in a heap ‘a trouble, boy!” in Vietnamese?

from Inform Africa
An African looks at our Thanksgiving tradition, and wonders why African-Americans find anything to celebrate.

from Travel Weekly
If you’re used to paying $51 in airport fees when flying into and out of Antigua, get ready to go a little deeper into your wallet from now on.

from the Los Angeles Times
The Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM walks a fine line between respecting an impoverished local culture and providing a successful escape for its visitors.

from USA Today
If you’ve been frightened away from Mexico over the last several years, you can at least think about returning now. The most recent State Department travelers warning about Mexico exempts most of that country’s traditional tourist destinations.

from the New York Times
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, is obsessed with good food. For a traveler, that could be a very good thing, indeed.

from the New York Times
A short but worthwhile visit in the city we used to know as Calcutta. Nowadays, it goes by Kolkata.

from The Guardian (London UK)
With a sleek new mountain eco-resort not far from Shanghai in Zhejiang province, China hopes to lure environmentally conscious tourists — and perhaps simultaneously clean up its international image as one of the world’s major polluters.

from France 24
Are the people of Singapore real-world Vulcans a la Star Trek, utterly lacking in emotions (as well as pointy ears)? A US Gallup poll says yes. Even worse, a fair number of Singaporeans seem to agree. It seems they’re too busy making a living to have a life.

from The Guardian (London UK)
A look at the town of Vicenza, one of northern Italy’s under-appreciated jewels, and the creation of one of its most famous architects. A UN World Heritage Site that still manages to slip below the tourist radar.

Edited by P.A.Rice



The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Liverpool | ©IBIT/G. Gross

For most of the last week, travelers have been coping with the chaos created by Hurricane Sandy. Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, offered some really helpful tips for travelers to get through it.

But it doesn’t require a “storm of the century” to unleash havoc on the US aviation grid. All it takes is a strong storm lasting a day or more that hammers an airlines’ hub airport city like Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta or New York.

If nothing else, Sandy’s swamping of East Coast airports may get travelers thinking about how to deal with such crises in the future, and that’s a good thing. Because the realities of climate change mean we probably haven’t seen our last superstorm around here.

Bason recommends keeping your airline’s phone number in your smartphone. In addition to that, make sure you have one or more good travel apps in your phone that give you fast access to airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, whatever you need to get through the crisis.

But really, the best thing you can do for yourself during a travel emergency is to have a previously established relationship with a travel agent and keep that person on speed dial. A good, experienced travel agent not only can find alternative flights and lodging for you, but can book them…and probably a lot faster than you can.

Just a little something to think about, especially if you travel a lot — and before one of Sandy’s meteorological siblings shows up.


As in airline add-on fees, those extra charges for checking your bags and even the “privilege” of sitting in an exit-row seat. The airlines drained an extra $22 bilion out of your collective pockets last year on fees alone.

We all know and loathe them, but we don’t know all of them.

Until now.

The crew at SmarterTravel, one of the best travel Web sites going, has produced a guide listing every single add-on fee charged by every domestic airline in the United States. Fourteen different fees — and their varying amounts — from 14 different US airlines.

It’s a PDF entitled “Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees.” To download it, click here.

Bookmark that link on your computer. Keep it on your smartphone. Print it out. If you fly a lot, this is one list you definitely want to keep handy.


For many years now, Japan Air Lines, that nation’s original national flag carrier, has been flying in the jetwash of rival All Nippon Airways. It looks now as if JAL is trying to take the fight to ANA with a promise of more comfort in the sky.

It’s giving their extended-range Boeing 777s a major interior makeover. When done, its cabins will be divided into four classes — Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First.

The latter two classes will be lie-flat seats in their own self-contained shells, but JAL is promising that all the seats will be more comfortable, even in sardine class.

They’re calling these reconfigured 777s “Sky Suites,” and the first of them will go into service next Janunary between Tokyo Narita and London Heathrow. Eventually, however, they will be coming to America.


You may have heard of the Napa Valley Wine Train up in the Northern California wine country. It’s a great experience, and IBIT will have more on that in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have you heard about the Beer Train in San Diego? It may sound like the punchline to a bad joke, but it’s anything but.

Unlike the Napa Valley Wine Train, the Beer Train doesn’t have its own rolling stock. Instead, it turns a Coaster commuter train into a rolling pub. Pub grub and short walks are part of the package.

Sounds like a sweet ride, does it not?


Travel Weekly reports that both Barbados and Martinique have plans in the works for new cruise terminals capable of handling the largest cruise ships out there. Which means that, in a year or so from now, passengers will be able to step off the ship directly onto the dock and head straight into town.

Caribbean ports need to do this, for the same reason that the world’s major airports have to build larger terminals to accommodate the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet.

Some struggle to handle the larger new super-cruisers. Others can’t dock cruise ships at all. They have to use small, cramped tenders to ferry cruise ship passengers to and from shore, a time-consuming and somewhat risky process disliked equally by the ports, the cruise lines and their passengers.

Meanwhile, Caribbean cruise ships have been growing almost exponentially in size since the 1990s. Royal Caribbean International and Carnival, the two largest lines going head-to-head for the Caribbean cruise market are both building seagoing behemoths that would make the Titanic look like the SS Minnow.

It’s hardly a coincidence, then, that one of the principal partners in the new Barbados cruise terminal is Royal Caribbean. One look at their Oasis of the Seas will explain everything.


Travel media just love making lists — best this, cheapest that, coolest whatever. If you look long enough, you’ll probably find someone making a list of the best travel lists.

But the prize for the most counter-intuitive travel list goes to Budget Travel. Its “winning” entry: the world’s 25 must-see tourist traps.

Normally, when travel writers say anything about tourist traps, it’s to advise you — usually with great disdain — to avoid them. This slideshow does just the opposite. It lists the top 25 destinations that invariably are crawling with tourists, but worth a visit, anyway.

To look at it another way: These places are all teeming with visitors for a reason.

So if a certain sight or destination really piques your interest, don’t automatically let the travelerati put you off from it.

And now, here’s the Digest:

from SmarterTravel
from CNN Travel
Window or aisle: What does your choice of airplane seat say about you?

from SmarterTravel
Eight airline perks that are — are you sitting down? — still free. SLIDESHOW

from the Los Angeles Times
First, airlines started tapping into celebrity chefs. Now, American Airlines will let passengers in First and Business Class reserve their choice of in-flight meals. The biggest shock? There’s no fee attached.

from Travel Weekly
JetBlue plans to offer satellite-based wifi beginning early in 2013, which it says will be better than the ground-based airborne wifi being offered by their competitors. It also plans to offer at least a basic version of it…wait for it…at no charge.

from Travel Weekly
Lufthansa launches a new low-fare carrier in Europe, Germanwings.

from SmarterTravel via USA Today
Five tips to make the most of that carry-on bag.

from Budget Travel
When it comes to unexpected travel costs that can ambush your wallet, we all know about the airlines and their hated baggage fees. But there are at least a half-dozen more that BT wants you to know about.

from Reuters
The streetcar, thought to be obsolete a half-century ago, is making a comeback in New Orleans. One more reason to visit the Crescent City.

from Associated Press via Yahoo
From bike-sharing programs to building bicycle “superhighways, European cities are embracing cycling like never before.

from Travel Weekly
Norwegian Cruise Line doing away with its discounts for children under age 2. A money-making idea, or a way to force parents to leave their babies at home with grandma?

from Travel Weekly
The Love Boat in unfamiliar waters. Princess Cruise Line’s Pacific Princess will offer a 10-day Caribbean cruise next January.

from Travel Weekly
New cruise industry safety rules now require cruise ship crewmembers to do lifeboat drills that involve actually putting the boats in the water and maneuvering them while being filled to capacity. If you’re guessing this is a consequence of the Costa Concordia disaster, you’re right.

from The Guardian (London UK)
A few days in the bush in Zimbabwe.

from Le Monde (France)
African migrants are increasingly abandoning dreams of reaching Europe or America. These days, the “promised land” is increasingly becoming South Africa. But while the dream destination may be different, the hardships and sorrows of the journey are the same.

from Monkeys and Mountains
Shark diving in South Africa — with camera and without a cage.

from Capetown Festival of Beer
When the world thinks of alcoholic beverages and South Africa, it automatically and for good reason thinks of South African wines. These guys would like to change that.

from the New York Times
Like some sort of post-apocalyptic epiphany on wheels, New Yorkers living in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are rediscovering their bikes…and liking them.

from Travel Weekly
Government bureaucracy plus consumer confusion is making a muddle of new rules governing legal U.S. travel to Cuba.

from Travel Weekly
The Imperial Palace hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip is undergoing both a year-long makeover and a name change. When it’s all done, some time around the end of 2013, it will be known as The Quad.

from the Associated Press via SFGate
The San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is often touted as the world’s busiest world crossing, and often cursed as the world’s most congested. It’s now getting a makeover intended to streamline the traffic flow going south. Northbound travelers…*shrug.*

from CNNgo
Vietnam puts its own spin on fast-food dining. It usually involves two motorized wheels and some seriously fresh and tasty eats.

from Travel Weekly
What it’s like to tour quake-shattered Christchurch, New Zealand. Just one example of “dark tourism.”

from Travel Weekly
Get ready to rock out in in the Middle Kingdom. Hard Rock International is bringing its rock ‘n’ roll-themed hotels to China starting in 2015, including one on the island of Hainan.

from Travel Weekly
China’s on-again, off-again issuance of permits for foreign tourists to visit Tibet is off again.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Missed Halloween last week? No worries. You can always catch up at the Witches Night festival next spring in Prague. Parades, witch burnings (in effigy only, mind you) and some of the world’s best beer.

from Travel Weekly
The British travel company Trafalgar is planning a 13-day tour of European battlefields from both world wars. Included is a visit to the Belgian cemetery that inspired the famous World War 1 poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

from Typically Spanish
Spain has long been a traditional warm-weather refuge for British tourists. These days, they’ve increasingly got company, from an even chillier Mother Russia.

from the BBC
Paris for lovers…of chocolate.

Edited by P.A.Rice


The IBIT Travel Digest 10-22-12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

James Bond Island, Thailand
© Ihar Balaikin | Dreamstime.com

The latest James Bond movie, “Skyfall,” is now blowing up (almost literally) in theaters worldwide. 007 has been a lot of places for Queen and country these past 50 years — which locations were your favorites? London’s The Guardian offers up a slideshow of their must-sees. Does their list match yours?

The one that really set my imagination racing was Khow-Ping-Kan on Phang Nga Bay in Thailand, seen above. This was the climactic location for “The Man with the Golden Gun,” one of the lesser flicks in the Bond series. These days, a lot of people just call it “James Bond Island.”

A sight like this could make me happily forget all about Bangkok, at least for a day or two.


In its ongoing efforts to swallow the Earth whole, Google has bought up the Frommer’s travel brands — all of them — for an undisclosed price. This after buying the Zagat restaurant review publishers.

What all that means for the traveling consumer remains somewhat unclear. It’s unlikely that what you see online or on book shelves from these two well-known travel publishing names will look or feel any different in the near term. But as we all know, things change.

Will Google insist on putting its stamp on its new travel possessions, or will it be content not to fix what wasn’t broken? Stay tuned.


IBIT doesn’t offer a Travel Outrage of the Week feature. If it did, this might top the list.

There are reports out of San Francisco that the local Travelodge motel recently refused the credit cards of famed New Orleans funk band The Meters Experience on the grounds that they are black.

And no, that’s not a misprint, nor did you misread it.

You can read the entire story yourself at SFWeekly here. For a more detailed report on the incident, go to the NOLA.com story here.

It really shouldn’t make any difference, but it’s not as if we’re talking here about some garage band composed of a bunch of high school kids with delusions of grandeur. The Meters are a New Orleans institution known around the world. Its guitarist, Leo Nocentelli, is a nominee for the 2013 class of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

I have emailed the Wyndham Hotel Group, which owns the Travelodge chain, asking it for clarification and its side of the story. Whatever I get in response will be published here.

There’s no indication that the motel clerk or manager even tried to verify whether the credit cards were valid, a swift and simple process that hotels and motels conduct routinely with all hotel and motel arriving guests millions of times a day around the world. Instead, if the initial reports are correct, the Travelodge people took one look at these black musicians and said, “Forget about it!”

Why are we still having to deal with this kind of treatment in 2012?

I emailed Christine DaSilva, a spokeswoman for Wyndham Hotel Group, about this situation. Here’s a portion of what she had to say:

“Hi Greg,
Thanks for checking in with me – not everyone that’s written about this allegation has done that, and it’s greatly appreciated.

As you can imagine, we are deeply troubled by this allegation. We invite every individual regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation or generation to experience our products and services, and we are troubled that the guests’ experience didn’t reflect our values.

“Please rest assured that we have been looking into this situation and are handling it directly with the franchised property’s owner as well as the guests.”

Sounds like Wyndham’s on the case. I suspect that a certain Travelodge property manager in San Francisco is going to be put in check…bigtime. And that’s exactly as it should be.

And now, here’s the rest of The Digest:

from ABC News
This is the sorry state to which US airport security has sunk: A list of the 20 airports in this country where a TSA inspector is most likely to steal something out your luggage. It sounds like the punchline of a bad joke, but it isn’t. The joke’s on us.

from SmarterTravel
Seven simple ways to get yourself kicked off an airplane. SLIDESHOW

from Travel+Leisure
If you’re flying out of any of these ten US airports, you’d be well-advised to a) get there early and b) not schedule your connecting flight too tightly. These Tardy Ten are notorious for flight delays.

from Travel Weekly
According to the numbers the US Travel Association fished out of the US Labor Department, travel has become a major source of new jobs in America. Guess you can’t outsource Disneyworld, can you? It’s also a growing source of cash. Foreign visitors dropped $82 billion in the US in the first half of 2012, an 11-percent increase over last year. So when you see that foreign tourist in your town, be nice. Be very nice.

from the New York Times
In Manhattan, home to some of the priciest hotels on Earth, a decent room for $150 or so a night constitutes a good deal. This guy tells you where and how to find seven of them.

from Travel Weekly
Which would you rather pay for at your hotel — your breakfast, access to the hotel gym or your in-room Internet access? US hotels are making the choice for you.

from Travel Weekly
At the San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel, they really give a hoot. Lots of hoots, in fact. Nesting barn owls, it seems, love the place.

from Travel Weekly
Here’s an idea from Carnival Cruise Lines. Want to get your cabin early, have priority dinner seating aboard ship, be first in line to embark or debark? Easy. Just pay an extra $49.95 per cabin. And you thought the cruise industry wasn’t paying attention to the airlines and their add-on fees.

from Travel Weekly
Bermuda is starting to fall off the cruise ship industry’s radar. Royal Caribbean is the latest to cut back.


from Travel Weekly
Egypt reopens a major stretch of the Nile River to cruise ships.

from Wilkinsons World
Sitting off the coast of Namibia, Shark Island today is a wildlife preserve and resort. But a century ago, it served a very different purpose. Long before the Nazis came into being, the Germans created the world’s first death camp on this island…to exterminate Africans.

from Travel Weekly
Go to Mexico, get well? Mexican tourism officials are pushing the nation’s capital, Mexico City, as a medical tourism destination. Meanwhile, they’re also looking at giving small groups of visitors exclusive access to historic sites like Chichen Itza — for a fee, of course. Ever dreamed of having a pyramid all to yourself?

from the New York Times
In Portland, OR, the gritty old industrial area on the east side of Willamette River is going upscale. Check it out while it’s still both fun and relatively affordable. SLIDESHOW

from the Los Angeles Times
Before it was America’s 50th state, Hawaii was a sovereign state, an independent kingdom with its own royalty. The LAT’s Catherine Hamm shows you where to go to dive into the Hawaiian history your mainland teachers left out of their lessons.

from Travel Weekly
Europe isn’t the only part of the world where river cruising is taking off. Aqua Expeditions, which operates Amazon River cruises in South America, has its sights fixed on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

from the Los Angeles Times
A generation ago, Da Nang was known to the world mainly as a gigantic US Marine base during the Vietnam war. Today, it’s Surf City East.

from Travel Weekly
The competition for the European river cruise market is heating up. After watching the Viking line add fresh new ships left and right, Uniworld is firing back with plans for two new ships of its own.

from the New York Times
The Belgian city of Antwerp, which first gained wealth and power as a 16th-century port city, is undergoing a revival.

from the New York Times
Wine lovers know all about Spain’s Rioja region, and for good reason. But there’s a lot more to Rioja than just great wines. There’s great food to go with them.

Edited by P.A.Rice



A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media.

© Christina Deridder | Dreamstime.com

I’ve been saying for awhile now that there’s a lot more to Africa than just exotic wildlife. It looks as if the folks in charge of Kenya’s tourism agree.

According to media reports out of Nairobi, the Kenya Tourism Board is abandoning its focus on beach and safaris. Now, they’re looking to diversify their approach, touting the East African nation as a destination for multiple forms of upscale travel — among them cultural tourism, eco-tourism and sports travel.

Kenya also is looking to raise its profile as a prime African location for MICE — traveltradespeak for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.

(South Africa is the Mother Continent’s current leader for MICE tourism. Looks as if Kenya wants to break off a chunk of that lucrative market for themselves.)

All this is being done with an eye toward drawing more tourism from Europe and the KTB started pushing this updated concept of Kenyan tourism at the International Travel Bourse show last weekend in Berlin.

Kenya continues to draw international visitors despite its military clashes with al Shabab militias from neighboring Somalia.

For more on this story, check out this report from theNairobi Star.

According to USA Today, the cruise ship that served as the floating set for the TV series “The Love Boat” ‐ and may well have helped launch the modern cruise industry as we now know it — is sailing toward an inglorious end.

The vessel formerly known as the Pacific Princess, has been sold to a demolition company in Turkey, where she’ll be cut up for scrap.

Apparently, she’s been laid up at a dock in Genoa, Italy for nearly a decade.

You can read the USA Today story here.

Those old enough to remember the show also will recall how huge we thought the ship was. In reality, she only held a maximum of about 600 passengers. Today’s mega-cruisers can hold more than that on one deck.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:


from the New York Times
Is there any way to make airplane food taste good? The airlines are trying everything — and I do mean everything.

from the New York Times
A couple of Sea World penguins get the celebrity treatment aboard a Delta flight. Not only do penguins fly, but in this case, they flew First Class. The humans loved it. VIDEO

from USA Today
The skies haven’t been that friendly of late for babies and parents. In one instance, TSA screeners denied boarding to a nursing mother. In another, JetBlue booted an entire family off a flight after their toddler went to DEFCON-5 with her tantrum.

from the New York Times
From how to save money on whale-watching in Hawaii to why your next pair of contact lenses should come from Thailand. A roundup of tips from the recent NY Times Travel Show.

from Budget Travel
A vacation rental site adds insurance to protect vacation home renters from nasty surprises.

from Frommer’s
Buy fragile things when you travel? Here’s how to pack them to survive the trip home. SLIDESHOW

from USA Today
The Costa Allegra, the container ship-turned-cruise ship that went adrift in pirate-infested waters off the East African coast after an engine fire, has probably sailed her last cruise. Her owners, Carnival Cruise Lines, say she will be sold or scrapped.

from USA Today
Another bit of fallout from the loss of the Costa Allegra — beleaguered Costa is cancelling its Red Sea cruises this year. The ship that was to be used in the Red Sea, the Costa Voyager, is being shifted to take Allegra’s place.

from USA Today
Carnival Destiny, the first of Carnival’s mega-sized cruise ships, is going to get one of the biggest makeovers ever done on a cruiser. By the time she re-emerges, even her name will be different.


from Capital FM (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Buoyed by what is sees as an improving global economy, British Airways is adding flight between London and the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

from The Chronicle (Ghana) via allAfrica.com
Aviation officials in Ghana say their citizens are being subjected to artificially high airfares, antiquated equipment and disrespectful treatment by flight attendants aboard foreign airlines. Accra is threatening retaliation if the foreign carriers don’t “come correct.”

from This Day (Nigeria) via allAfrica.com
Four years ago, Lagos welcomed the arrival of the first yacht hotel anywhere in Africa. Four years later, the Sunborn Yacht Hotel is a floating white elephant, yet to welcome a paying guest. PICS and VIDEO


from The Associated Press via The Grio
In New York’s Harlem, the phenomenon of gospel tourism is increasingly filling the pews of dwindling black congregations with white European tourists. It’s proving to be a mixed blessing.

from Budget Travel
How well do you know New Orleans? Test your knowledge of the NOLA with this quiz.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Mention the Amazon and the first place you’re likely to think of is Brazil. Add Peru to that list. Especially if the prospect of exploring the Amazon via a small luxury cruise appeals to you.


from Voice of America
One year after being rocked by a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Japan is still trying to get tourists to come back.

from the Los Angeles Times
In Vietnam, the city of Hanoi is making a name for itself among international travelers looking for the best in Vietnamese cuisine.

from the Los Angeles Times
Another sign of growing affluence in China — a domestic wine industry.

from Your Singapore
Remember when Singapore was known for its staid, ultra-conservative lifestyle? The St. James Power Station is an old coal-fired powerplant converted into the ultimate nightlife venue — ten different bars and live music venues under one roof. (Wikipedia lists 11.) So much for staid.


from TravPr.com
“Paris pour les femmes” means Paris for women. A European tour company is offering luxury tours of Paris—exclusively for women.

from The Guardian (London UK)
“Foodie” may be a dirty word these days among the travelerati, but if you’ve got a thing for both rustic Italian countryside and great Italian food, there are some places to stay in rural Italy that can satisfy both cravings.

from The Guardian (London UK)
And speaking of Italy, virtually every hotel in Venice is on an island, but this one has an island pretty much to itself, well away from the tourist mobs.