Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wildman Wilderness Lodge

Welcome to the best example of recycling in Australian Tourism.    Wildman Wilderness Lodge is set to open in April, 2011, and I can't wait to see it.  Set in the lush Mary River Wetlands of the Northern Territory, the lodge is the remains and rebuild of Wrotham Park Lodge.  Wildman Wilderness Lodge is owned in partnership with Anthology and Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), bringing the best of tourism together. 

The Anthology Collection is passionate
about connecting remarkable Australian places - wilderness, outback, heritage - with the dreams and desires of travellers to this country.
And IBA says

Our vision is for a nation in which the First Australians are economically independent and an integral part of the economy.

This region, the Top End of the Northern Territory, is impossibly beautiful.  Each time I've been in the region, my heart feels full and I weep like a baby when I leave.  It's as if I lived there in another lifetime, somehow I'm deeply connected to this land.  The Wetlands are a haven for incredible wildlife, history, and Indigenous Culture.  Mary River Wetlands is remote, but easily accessible year round.  While the dry season (May to September) is more comfortable, the wet season brings a plethora of rare birds - it's a brilliant destination for bird watching.

Back to Wildman Wilderness Lodge.  In November 2009, the buildings that made up Wrotham Park Lodge were dismantled and trucked from their location in Queensland to the Northern Territory.  And then, they were rebuilt and added to to create this new lodge.  Comprised of 10 cabins called Habitats, and 15 Safari Tents, the lodge promises to deliver a pampered wilderness experience.  It looks great, I hope it delivers!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch Affected by 6.3 Magnitude Earthquake

A devastating earthquake occured about 5 miles southeast of Christchurch, New Zealand, at 12:50 PM local time Feb. 22.  The Central Business District has sustained considerable damage, and there are fears that the death toll could climb to 300.  On September 4, 2010 a 7.1 Magnitude Quake hit about 19 miles from Christchurch, however, it was before business hours and there were no deaths despite extensive damage. 

Still, Seismologists have ruled this event as an aftershock (one of thousands) from the September quake.  This new quake was about 5 km more shallow, and about 9 km closer to the city center, hit during the lunch hour when the city center was full.  In September, the event occured just before 5 AM. 

If you have travel plans to Christchurch, please check with your airline and your travel agent.  If you have plans to travel to other parts of New Zealand, please do NOT cancel.  They need your support, your presence, and your prayers. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is It Safe To Visit Mexico

This is a terrific answer to the question "Is it safe to visit Mexico."  The author of the article, Aysha Griffin, is a travel writer, editor and business/relationship coach currently residing in and blogging about San Miguel de Allende, Mexico at Inhabit Your Dreams.  Her tone is calm and realistic.  The article is clear, and has common-sense tips.  She does not provide a sugar-coated answer as she correctly points out the difference in the various kinds of violence we find in the United States and what is happening in Mexico.
However, there is something different happening in Mexico. At the core are not just anger, political intolerance, insanity and psychopathic behavior, but money and turf war power, with illegal drugs (primarily marijuana) as the medium.
Her suggestions are to stay clear of the border towns, something my friend over at Border Explorer does not do.  The Port of Los Angeles recently lost two cruise ships due to the slump in popularity over travel to Mexico.  But Ms. Griffin states correctly that "Fear begets fear."  Yes, there are problems in Mexico.  There are problems in the USA, and Europe, and just about everywhere, and if we allowed fear to dictate everything, then we would scarcely leave our homes, let alone the country. 

Mexico depends on Tourism.  If that dries up, where will people turn as unemployment rates soar?  Unemployment, frustration, anger.  The drug trade can be very lucrative.  At any rate, please read her article, and hopefully it will assuage your fears, and you will continue to travel to this beautiful and diverse country.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Slow Down

There are many growing trends in travel.  One of my favorites is growing out of the Slow Movement.  Remember the old days of travel?  The hectic pace?  Back in the 1960's Americans took whirlwind tours of Europe that featured a lot of "drive-by" sightseeing and absolutely no connection to place.
One of the defining elements of slow travel is the opportunity to become part of local life and to connect to a place and its people. Slow travel is also about connection to culture.
An example:  I just booked a mother and daughter into a place in Italy for a week long cooking immersion.  They will stay in a lovely place, where they will pick produce with the owner from her garden, visit local markets, and learn the traditional methods of regional cooking.  "Slow down to see the world" is the motto of Butterfield & Robinson, one of the premier operators of walking and biking tours throughout the world.  Another example is volunteer tourism - similar to the Uganda trip I'm currently developing for Aid Africa.

What would be your dream for slow travel?  What would you do?  I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Allure of the Seas

I mean the world's largest Cruise Ship.  Royal Carribbean's Allure of the Seas is 1,187 feet long and 16 decks high with a capacity for 6,318 passengers and 2,384 crew members. 
Featuring seven distinct districts, from "Central Park" with luxury shopping venues to a full-size Carousel in the "Boardwalk" district, the Allure also has the world's largest dedicated "youth zone" to fill the time of disgruntled teens and adorable toddlers. 

The mega-ships are about more than just their size. I recently sailed on the lovely Celebrity Equinox, and found the overall experience to be a delightful surprise.  Sleek, calming interiors, and a wide range of dining opportunities, it was the best Premium cruise experience I've had.  My favorite part of the ship was the real grass lawn on the top deck - cool, lush grass between my toes - on a ship.

But with venues like Blue Man Group on the  Norwegian Epic, or all the Disney Characters on Disney Cruise Ships, one begins to wonder when cruising became more about a land-based experience than about the real allure of the open seas?  Where has the romance gone?  Not that cruising has to be on tall ships, but still.  

What do you think?  What's your experience? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Are we ready for a Luxury Hotel in Tibet?

I have mixed feelings about this new hotel.  Lhasa, the Capital of Tibet, has a new luxury hotel.  The St Regis Lhasa Resort stands "on the roof of the world" in close proximity to UNESCO World Heritage Sites Potala Palace and Norbulingka, the hotel offers all the comfort and luxury one expects from the St. Regis brand. 

But Tibet is a victim of Human Rights violations and oppression.  The Chinese refer to their invasion of Tibet as the "peaceful liberation of Qamdo."  In fact, there are parts of the world that don't recognize Tibet as a nation at all, but part of China.  When I was in Bhutan, which borders on Tibet, I realized not one map showed Tibet to the north.  It was all China.

And now, China invades again. Regular flights, a high-tech rail connection, and Chinese-guided tours bring wealthy tourists to what was once the home of the his holiness, the Dalai Lama.  "The St Regis Lhasa Resort offers refined luxury and superlative service in a storied city," gushes the breathless blurb on the St Regis website.  Tibetan activists feel that the influx of tourism will destroy Tibet's distinctive culture, and that the Tibetans will not be able to get jobs, or their share of the income.  They feel the spoils will go to the Han Chinese, who see Tibet as having a spiritual essence not found in other parts of China.

St. Regis, and Starwood, are less concerned with politics as they are with promoting Tibet as a "go to" destination.  And it is.  So my question, the thing that troubles me constantly, is this:  in this case, does tourism shine a light on a serous problem?  Or does it contribute to the erasing of another culture?

I do want your thoughts, and look forward to the conversation.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Will High Speed Rail Come to the United States?

If you've ever traveled on the TGV trains, you know what I'm talking about:  upwards of 200 MPH, International service, and an experience both gracious and efficient.  Connecting France with Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland, with Paris as the hub, the TGV is more fun than any flight I've ever been on. 

High Speed Rail is not new.  The Japanese really developed the technology in 1963, followed by West Germany (before the Wall fell) and then France.  HSR is a staple in Europe, and Asia, so I've wondered why we just don't have it in the USA?  I know so many people who are real train buffs, who love to travel by rail and love rail history.  What's holding us back? 

Well, there's always Amtrak, and their overwhelming financial problems.  Born in 1971, Amtrak has never managed to be solvent.  Ever.  That's not a great record!  But now, President Barack Obama is calling for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail designed to create jobs and bolster our sagging infrastructure. 

From a travel perspective, I believe this to be good news.  I grew up in Chicago and have so many memories of traveling on The Super Chief to visit my grand parents and cousins.  Now, living in Los Angeles, I would love a high speed rail route to go back to visit family in Chicago.  What do you think?  Would you travel by train if it were fast and efficient? 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Maps + Food = Mappetite!

Mappetite is so much fun!  Just heard about these maps on NPR's The Splendid Table.  They are actual maps, fold-out things that are so convenient and easy to use, it's crazy.  Plus, they're actual maps!  You can hold them, write on them, use them and never have to worry about power or roaming charges. 

Don't get me wrong, I love technology.  But I also love to actually read a book, hold a map, feel the paper.  There's something intimate and enriching in reading a printed page that I don't get from a Kindle or iPad..  I get it, traveling with these devices is a huge convenience factor, but still.  I love a real map, a real book.

Mappetite has 3 cities so far:  New York, San Francisco, and London.  Chicago and Paris are soon to follow.  Yes, they've got apps for iPhones and such, but really - try the actual map.  Spill food on them.  Love them.  Use them.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Volunteer Vacations

Great post about Sea Turtle Conservation from The Vacation Gals blog.   I'm a big believer in Volunteer Vacations, which by definition mean an immersion in a local community where you serve the needs of that community. 

The idea of doing well by doing good is not new.  Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, has far reaching effects.  And travel can be one of the best roads to making this happen.  The late Richard C. Holbrooke said "If you don't travel, you can forget that other people in other parts of the world are human beings too." (Conde Nast Traveler Feb. 2011, p. 16)  The joy of volunteering in any area - be it domestic or internationally - is that you get back as much as you give.  You get to know other cultures and broaden your own world view.  You get connected at a very deep level.  You get human.

There are wonderful organizations that organize volunteer and study trips:  among them, Heifer International, where you can deliver animals to villages in need; and Toms Shoes - you can travel with Toms on a shoe drop. 

There are countless opportunities, so I encourage you to follow your heart.  And post your ideas here!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weather, Weather, Everywhere

Queensland, Australia, has had a brutal summer - relentless rains caused massive flooding in Brisbane and most of Southeast Queensland during January.  End of January into the first part of February, two cyclones hit the Tropical North.  The first, Cyclone Anthony, was fairly small.  The second of these, Cyclone Yasi, was roughly the size of Italy. 

Cyclone Yasi

And while Queensland cleans up, roughly 2/3rds of the United States is in the throes of a blizzard for the decade.  Images of automobiles and busses stranded on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive are stunning to see.  Lake Shore Drive APKiichiro Sato

Grounded planes, frigid temperatures make this a winter for the books.  The sheer size of this blizzard is mind-boggling, from Texas to Maine. 

Travel has been strong so far this year.  Really strong.  Bookings to Australia have been up (thank you, Ms. Winfrey), Costa Rica has been strong, and Eastern Europe has been making tremendous strides.  People from the frozed heart of the USA want to go someplace warm, right now.  I'm here to help.

So, that being said, I have to ask:  does anyone still question that we're experiencing Climate Change? 
“A rise in global temperature can create all sorts of havoc, ranging from hotter dry spells to colder winters, along with increasingly violent storms, flooding, forest fires and loss of endangered species.”

We must do better. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So what's your favorite cruise line?

Have you?  And if you have cruised, what's your favorite cruise line?  Tell me about it!