News & Views of the Week

 

Like it or not summer is here and so is travel.

As most of you know the airlines are having a problem so the order of the day is patience, patience, patience.

There appears to be some finger pointing going on as to who the problem really is but unfortunately it puts all of us travelers in the middle of the argument.  

What we are suggesting is to book early flights for now.  The later n the day the more theproblems seem to be in general.  And if you do have a change ofplanes en route please allow more than an hour for the changeover since there is a very good chance your luggage will not go with you.

We'll all have to weather the storm for now and hopefully it will smooth out as the summer wears on.

 

 

NEWS AND VIEWS is back and below are articles of interest for many of you.

 

 

COVID-19 Policies Onboard Cruise Ships Are Changing — What to Know About Testing, Vaccines and More

Jul 27, 2022

Coronavirus  Cruise  

 

covidcruise

Cruise restrictions are beginning to loosen for COVID-19 policies for testing and vaccination following changes from the CDC.
Credit: 2022 Giles Duley/All Inclusive Photo Project

On July 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the elimination of its COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships sailing in U.S. waters, a first-of-its-kind move that would allow each individual cruise line to manage its own COVID-19 mitigation programs.

“The news about the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] removing the COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships is the most positive indication yet that we are moving further away from the pandemic,” said Brad Tolkin, co-chairman and CEO for World Travel Holdings.

(Note: Since the initial announcement, the CDC has released new guidance for cruise ships on the mitigation and management of the virus.)

This announcement is the most significant to date, and is another step to greater consumer confidence in travel.

“This announcement is the most significant to date, and is another step to greater consumer confidence in travel,” Tolkin said. "We are already experiencing an increase in calls and bookings due to the pent-up demand for cruise, and we expect to see another uptick as a result of this latest announcement.” 

Will Lines Still Require a Pre-Cruise COVID-19 Test Before a Cruise?

As any client who has cruised recently knows, the logistics of requiring COVID-19 testing before, during or right after a trip can be daunting. Many cruisers have been hours away from boarding without confirmation of negative results, adding undue stress to what should be a vacation full of rest and relaxation.

Given this realization, and how vocal some potential customers and cruise lines have been about such remaining restrictions, cruise lines were already starting to lift testing requirements even before the aforementioned CDC news. Azamara, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Viking were among the first to do so, where permitted.

Now, the official termination of the CDC program is only accelerating the elimination of testing among other lines.

"I'm very glad that it has ended,” said Adam Martindale, owner of a Cruise Planners franchise in San Diego, Calif. “There are no other leisure industries as regulated as cruise lines are. The cruise lines are already set up to self-manage with all protocols necessary to keep their guests in the safest environment possible, as they always have been.”

There are no other leisure industries as regulated as cruise lines are. The cruise lines are already set up to self-manage with all protocols necessary to keep their guests in the safest environment possible, as they always have been.

In response to the CDC program ending, Margaritaville at Sea and Virgin Voyages have also ended their pre-cruise testing, doing so even for U.S.-based cruises.

“With the CDC’s removal of the pre-embarkation testing requirement, we are hopeful and pleased that the travel and cruising industries are sailing toward a new normal,” said Oneil Khosa, CEO of Margaritaville at Sea. “Margaritaville at Sea’s vaccinated guests will no longer be required to undergo testing prior to boarding, making it quicker and easier than ever to escape to paradise.”

As for Martindale’s agency, business is booming. Clients are booking now and into the future, and he believes the cruise lines are mostly getting back to normal operations and looking at long-term planning. His expectation is that more companies will soon remove pre-cruise COVID-19 testing, as local regulations allow.

However, Azamara still lists Miami as a port requiring COVID-19 tests, and Viking has yet to remove its testing in the U.S. 

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. — parent to the Norwegian, Oceania and Regent brands — also confirmed that they would keep health and safety protocols in place for ships operating in U.S. waters with the following statement:

“We welcome the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to end the CDC COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships operating in U.S. waters. At this time, no changes have been made to our health and safety protocols for voyages originating in the U.S. as we look forward to reviewing the details of the CDC’s planned guidelines for public health operations on cruise ships.”

The CDC’s latest updated guidance for cruise ships now only recommends, and no longer mandates, pre-cruise testing in the U.S. 

At this point, only Margaritaville and Virgin have revised their policies accordingly, but it’s very likely others will soon follow.

Will Cruises Lift Vaccine Mandates? What Cruise Line Does Not Require a COVID-19 Vaccine?

For the time being, cruise lines are mostly holding strong to their vaccine mandates, but another subset of travelers is hoping those will eventually go away, too.

"The booster vaccine is causing the most challenges for my agency as far as clients not wanting to get an additional booster shot in order to sail in some parts of the world requiring this,” Martindale said. 

The options available to unvaccinated guests continue to expand.

As of July 14, Princess Cruises is beginning to more openly welcome unvaccinated passengers.

"At Princess, we want to make your vacation as easy, hassle-free and safe as possible. We respect that every guest has choices, and regardless of your vaccination status, we have amazing vacations for you to enjoy,” reads the line’s CruiseHealth page.

Princess is now permitting up to 10% of its guests to be unvaccinated. The policy is true on most sailings on a first-come, first-served basis without the need for exemptions or vaccine status justifications.

"The options available to unvaccinated guests continue to expand,” according to Princess.

Virgin Voyages has also modified its vaccine policy to also allow 10% of guests to be unvaccinated.

Martindale expects vaccine requirements will predominantly remain in place until at least the end of 2022, something that “the majority of my clients are very much in favor of,” he said. 

Airline Passengers With Disabilities Have a New Bill of Rights

Jul 15, 2022

Airlines  

 

Air Travelers Bill of Rights_HERO

Air passengers with disabilities now have a Bill of Rights with 10 listed protections.
Credit: 2022 Svitlana/stock.adobe.com

What: The Airline Passengers With Disabilities Bill of Rights Protects Travelers With Disabilities

This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a Bill of Rights for travelers living with disabilities and choosing to travel by air. The 16-page document, which highlights 10 fundamental rights for air passengers under the Air Carrier Access Act, was released earlier this month as a way to “empower air travelers with disabilities to understand and assert their rights, and help ensure that U.S. and foreign air carriers and their contractors uphold those rights.”

Why It Matters: The Bill Represents a Huge Step Forward for the Aviation Industry

Air travel should be accessible, reliable and safe for everyone, and this community of travelers is no exception. Although the Bill of Rights is a summation of existing law (and does not introduce any new rights), it will prove to be a valuable tool and resource for travelers living with disabilities by empowering them to advocate for a more inclusive air travel experience.

Additionally, it will provide U.S. carriers (or foreign carriers flying to and from the U.S.) a much-needed a framework to follow and uphold to ensure that these consumers are treated with respect. Travel advisors working with clients who have disabilities should include this bill with a customer’s final travel documents and be well-versed with its contents in order to step in and advocate on a client’s behalf.

Fast Facts: What’s Covered Under the Bill of Rights

- The creation of this Bill of Rights was mandated under a 2018 reauthorization of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

- Under the Bill, an individual with a disability is defined as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that permanently or temporarily affects life activities including walking, hearing or breathing.

- The bill is a living document; it may change or evolve as regulations change.

- The Bill of Rights consists of 10 fundamental rights for travelers:
1. The Right to Be Treated with Dignity and Respect

2. The Right to Receive Information About Services and Aircraft Capabilities and Limitations

3. The Right to Receive Information in an Accessible Format

4. The Right to Accessible Airport Facilities

5. The Right to Assistance at Airports

6. The Right to Assistance on the Aircraft

7. The Right to Travel with an Assistive Device or Service Animal

8. The Right to Receive Seating Accommodations

9. The Right to Accessible Aircraft Features 

10. The Right to Resolution of a Disability-Related Issue

What They Are Saying: This Is One Step Toward an All-Inclusive Air Travel System

“Today’s announcements are the latest steps toward ensuring an air travel system that works for everyone,” said Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation for the U.S. “Whether you’re a parent expecting to sit together with your young children on a flight, a traveler with a disability navigating air travel or a consumer traveling by air for the first time in a while, you deserve safe, accessible, affordable and reliable airline service.”

Pete Buttigieg: Airlines should create wheelchair space on planes

By Robert Silk 

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Aug 02, 2022

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The American with Disabilities Act doesn't require airlines to make it possible for passengers to travel in their personal wheelchairs.

The American with Disabilities Act doesn't require airlines to make it possible for passengers to travel in their personal wheelchairs. Photo Credit: Cunaplus/Shutterstock

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DOT secretary Pete Buttigieg has pledged to work toward requiring airlines to allow passengers to stay in their personal wheelchairs when they fly. 

"We know that this won't happen overnight, but it is a goal that we have to work to fulfill," Buttigieg said in a YouTube video posted last week by the advocacy group Paralyzed Veterans of America.

In contrast to the requirements imposed on bus lines and trains, the American with Disabilities Act doesn't require airlines to make it possible for passengers to travel in their personal wheelchairs. Instead, flyers are typically transferred from their own chair in the boarding area into a narrow, airline-owned chair. Once aboard the plane, they are transferred from that chair into the standard airline seat. 

A National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report delivered last fall at the behest of Congress concluded that personal wheelchair securement is technically feasible on commercial narrowbody aircraft such as Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s, provided that two successive rows of seats are removed on one side of the aisle.

The study stated that many wheelchairs comply with the horizontal crash standards used by the FAA for existing aircraft seats, though further testing must be done to determine whether chairs meet FAA standards for vertical impact.

The report did not explore the financial impact to airlines of removing two rows of seats and replacing them with one row for wheelchair access. Costs, though, could be substantial -- potentially totaling $1 million per plane or more, even assuming all the wheelchair slots were purchased and that the seats removed were economy class. 

The NAS study said the best place to create the wheelchair space would be in the two front left rows behind the door -- an area often used by carriers for pricier first class seats.

In a statement, Airlines for America (A4A) said that airlines are committed to providing a positive and safe experience for travelers with mobility aids. 

"A4A carriers have long been engaged in a variety of initiatives to increase air travel accessibility," the trade group said. "We look forward to continuing to work with the disability community, aircraft and mobility aid manufacturers and safety regulators to explore safe and feasible solutions that reduce barriers to air travel."

In his statement, Buttigieg referenced an incident relayed to him by Marine Corps veteran Charles Brown, who is the president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. Brown, Buttigieg said, was once dropped by an airline employee onto a jet bridge, breaking his tail bone and causing a near-fatal infection. 

"Practically everyone who uses an airline and flies, including colleagues of mine here at the DOT, has a troubling story about an airline experience. Many have far more than one," Buttigieg said. 

The Biggest Barriers for Travelers With Disabilities

DESTINATION & TOURISM  LACEY PFALZ  AUGUST 02, 2022

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Woman in a wheelchair waiting on the bus

PHOTO: Woman in a wheelchair waiting on the bus. (photo via AzmanJaka/E+)

MMGY Global released its latest report on the travel industry, called Portrait of Travelers with Disabilities: Mobility and Accessibility, reporting that the top two barriers for travelers with disabilities remain, as ever, accommodations and transportation.

The report aims to showcase to the travel industry the needs of millions of individuals across the globe who find that their mobility impairments can also impair their ability to travel.

The numbers are indicative of the truth: 96 percent of all respondents have faced a problem with accessible accommodations while traveling; 86 percent have faced difficulties with air travel, and 79 percent have also experienced transportation problems while in their destination.

These are startlingly high percentages, considering travelers with mobility impairments spend about $58.2 billion annually on travel and consistently take about the same number of trips annually as an able-bodied individual.

The research found that 54 percent of respondents had been given a room upon check-in to their accommodation that didn’t match the room they booked, which can cause accessibility issues to occur.

The research found that 81 percent of travelers who were surveyed struggled with inaccessible showers or tubs. Fifty-two percent have also experienced having beds that were too high for them to easily access.

Transportation issues continue to occur among travelers with mobility issues, too. Six in ten respondents have experienced extended wait times at the airport before or after their flight waiting for mobility assistance, while forty percent have had their mobility aid lost or damaged during air travel.

The report also asked travelers what could benefit them in the future. Over eighty percent of respondents all agreed on three key things: increased promotion of accessible accommodations increased maintenance of ramps, sidewalks and mobile lifts and increased accessibility information on a destination’s website.

The report surveyed 2,375 adults with disabilities who utilize mobility aids, as well as 414 caregivers or companions of someone with a mobility impairment. 1,761 had traveled in the past twelve months. MMGY Global worked with a committee of disability advocates, senior business leaders of travel companies who serve and support disabled travelers, destination marketing organizations and more.

FAA starts regulatory review of airplane seat size standards

By Robert Silk 

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Aug 01, 2022

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After a comment period, the FAA will decide whether it believes new regulatory standards are necessary for airplane seats. Photo Credit: Have a Nice Day Photo/Shutterstock

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The FAA is starting a regulatory review process that could lead to the setting of size standards for commercial airplane seats as well as the space between aircraft rows.

The first step will be a document asking the public to provide comments on the safety impacts of existing seat widths, seat lengths and the space between rows (known as "pitch" in industry parlance). 

Current regulations don't dictate minimums for those dimensions, but do require that aircraft must be able to be evacuated within 90 seconds

The public will have 90 days to submit recommendations after the request-for-comments document is posted in the Federal Register. 

The FAA will then decide whether it believes new regulatory standards are necessary. The agency said comments that include technical data will be the most helpful.

As part of a 2018 FAA funding bill, Congress mandated that the agency set new seat size and pitch standards based upon what is "necessary for the safety and health of passengers." 

In March, the agency finally publicly released the results of evacuation tests it conducted from November 2019 through March 2020. The report states that the cabin configurations currently flown by U.S. carriers do not impede evacuation progress for 99% of the American population. However, in a separate letter to lawmakers, then-FAA administrator Steve Dickson noted that the tests relied solely on able-bodied adults under age 60. No senior citizens, children or disabled individuals participated.

"As a result, they provide useful, but not necessarily definitive information, regarding the effects of seat dimensions on safe evacuations for all populations," Dickson wrote. 

The comments document will ask the public to offer input on the seat and pitch dimensions "necessary to ensure safety during airplane evacuation of a broad range of passengers," including demographic groups not included in the evacuation tests.

DOT proposes to give flyers more opportunities to get a refund

By Robert Silk 

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Aug 03, 2022

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In all cancellations or significant itinerary changes, passengers would be entitled refunds for ancillary purchases such as checked bags.

In all cancellations or significant itinerary changes, passengers would be entitled refunds for ancillary purchases such as checked bags. Photo Credit: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

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New regulations proposed by the Transportation Department would require airlines to offer refunds when they delay domestic flights for three hours or longer or delay international flights for six hours or longer.

Under existing regulations, airline customers are entitled to a refund when a carrier cancels or significantly delays a flight. However, there is no definition of a significant delay. The DOT's proposed rule establishes a threshold. 

Also, proposed regulations would require airlines to issue flight credits, vouchers or refunds to customers who choose to cancel their travel due to advice from a doctor or because of government restrictions or guidance during a public health emergency. 

"When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably and affordably," DOT secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a prepared remark. "This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines."

Wednesday's proposals came just two days after a group of House and Senate Democrats filed legislation calling for similar measures. But this new rulemaking has long been in the works at the DOT and aims to address a spate of consumer complaints related to the reticence of some airlines to provide refunds during the pandemic, especially during the pandemic's first few months. 

Airlines for America (A4A) didn't comment on the DOT proposal. The trade group, however, did issue a statement about the newly filed Cash Refunds for Flights Cancellations Act, noting that in 2020 and 2021, airlines issued a combined $21 billion in cash refunds, compared with $7.5 billion in 2019. 

"A4A member carriers comply with federal laws and regulations regarding cash refunds," the trade group said. "Carriers strive to provide the highest level of customer service and are committed to working with travelers to address their individual circumstances."

In a nutshell, the DOT is proposing that travel agencies be responsible -- equally with the airline -- for making refunds when an airline cancels or significantly delays a flight.

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Flyers whose itineraries are moved forward by three or six hours also would be entitled to a refund should they choose not to travel. In addition, the rule would stipulate several other itinerary changes that would entitle airline customers to a refund. They include changes to the arrival or departure airport, the addition of a connection point to the itinerary, cases in which the customer is downgraded to a lower seating class, and situations in which an aircraft change downgrades the plane's available amenities. 

In all cancellations or significant itinerary changes, passengers would be entitled refunds for ancillary purchases such as checked bags. 

Existing regulations don't require airlines to offer credits or refunds for trips canceled by their customers. But the DOT's proposed rule would require carriers to offer non-expiring flight credits to customers who are restricted from travel during an official public health emergency due to government orders or border closures. The same obligation would apply to customers who choose not to fly, consistent with WHO or CDC public health guidance.

And when there is no public health emergency, flyers would be entitled to non-expiring flight credits if they cancel travel plans on the advice of their doctor. 

Customers booked with airlines that accept "significant government financial assistance" in relation to a future public health emergency would be entitled to a refund rather than only a flight credit in the above scenarios. 

The proposed rules do offer at least one provision that is favorable to airlines and the travel advisors who would have to process all refunds and flight credits: They could charge a processing fee as long as that fee is prominently disclosed at the time the ticket is sold. 

One final element of the proposed rules relate to disclosure. In cases where customers are entitled to a refund, airlines and travel agents would continue to be allowed to offer travel credits or vouchers in lieu of those refunds but only after first informing customers of their right to a refund. That provision would address the common airline practice of not informing passengers about the option of a refund when a flight is canceled.

In a statement, ASTA vice president of advocacy Eben Peck said ASTA is reviewing the entire DOT proposal.

ASTA comments on the proposed rules

"At first glance, it contains several elements we supported in DOT proceedings on this rulemaking, including codifying airline changes/cancellations that trigger a refund and expanding refund rights for passengers unable to fly due to pandemic-related government travel bans."

Peck, however, noted concern that the proposal would make it the responsibility of travel agencies to provide refunds in cases when an agency books a flight for a client but the funds are in the control of the airline or another entity. The DOT proposes to make agencies the responsible party in such cases because consumers can't be expected to know who is actually holding the money.

The DOT is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations for 90 days. Comments can be made at the regulations.gov website, docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089.

In addition, the department's Aviation Consumer Protection Advisor Committee will convene on Aug. 22 to discuss the proposed regulations.

NCL takes delivery of the Norwegian Prima

By Jerry Limone 

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Jul 29, 2022

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The Norwegian Prima will embark on an eight-day inaugural voyage from Iceland on Aug. 27.

The Norwegian Prima will embark on an eight-day inaugural voyage from Iceland on Aug. 27. Photo Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

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Norwegian Cruise Line on Friday took delivery of its first Prima-class ship, the Norwegian Prima, at the Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera, Italy.

A delivery celebration was followed by the traditional flag-exchange ceremony.

Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer said NCL will "usher in a thrilling new era in cruising" with the debut of the Prima. The ship will have more wide-open spaces than previous NCL ships.

The 3,100-passenger ship will embark on an eight-day inaugural voyage from Iceland on Aug. 27. Pop star Katy Perry, the ship's godmother, will perform at the christening ceremony in Reykjavik.

 

Luigi Matarazzo (left), general manager of Fincantieri's Merchant Ships division, and Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer sign off on the Norwegian Prima delivery.

Luigi Matarazzo (left), general manager of Fincantieri's Merchant Ships division, and Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Harry Sommer sign off on the Norwegian Prima delivery. Photo Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

The Prima's highlights include NCL's first open-air food hall; dining and experiences on Ocean Boulevard, which wraps around the entirety of deck 8; a three-level go-kart racetrack; the Concourse outdoor sculpture garden; and The Drop, a freefall dry slide with a 10-story plunge.

Following the inaugural voyage, Norwegian Prima will sail a series of eight-day cruises from Amsterdam and Copenhagen. It will then sail Bermuda from Oct. 10, Caribbean itineraries from Oct. 15 and Western Caribbean voyages from Dec. 11 to March 19.

The ship returns to Bermuda from March 28 to May 7, then will cruise Northern Europe from May 14 through Sept. 17.

 

 

Airlines' shortcomings create opportunity for private jet travel

By Nicole Edenedo 

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Jul 16, 2022

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RoadRunAir is seeing increased interest from travel agencies and operators booking groups.

RoadRunAir is seeing increased interest from travel agencies and operators booking groups. Photo Credit: RoadRunAir

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The potential for air travel chaos is pushing some travelers, at least the most well-heeled ones, away from commercial airlines and toward private flying.

David Zipkin, co-founder of Tradewind Aviation, a private aviation company that works with hotels and tour operators, said that while existing clients and longtime private flyers account for about 60% of its business, the remainder are new to private.





 

"This group is much larger than pre-pandemic, driven in large part by the current failings of the traditional airline environment," he said. 

Industry trackers have found that private jet use has surged since the pandemic: In May alone, usage in North America was 15.8% above May 2019, said Travis Kuhn, senior vice president of market intelligence for the private jet industry data tracker Argus. 

Tour operators that offer private jet tours are also seeing an impact. 

Abercrombie & Kent expanded its Wings Over the World private jet journeys this year, adding new destinations in the U.S., Australia, East Africa and Italy, saying it's seen an uptick in bookings "due to the ease of travel by private air and the bucket-list destinations that are featured," said Stefanie Schmudde, A&K's vice president of product development and operations.

"Flying direct from each destination to the next eliminates the extra time and layovers required to transit through a country's major airport," she said. 

RoadRunAir, a new private air tour operator, is also seeing more interest from typical commercial flyers, especially from travel agencies and operators booking groups. 

"Especially with all of the flight challenges nowadays, we have seen an increase in ," said Leyla Allahverdiyeva, RoadRunAir's chief sales and marketing officer. "People are extremely interested in the entire idea of affordable, all-inclusive, private jet tours."

 

An Inside Look at Norwegian Cruise Line’s Return to Hawaii

Jun 20, 2022

Cruise  Hawaii  

 

An Inside Look at Norwegian Cruise Line’s Return to Hawaii

Pride of America is the only vessel to offer weeklong voyages exclusively within the Hawaiian Islands.
Credit: 2022 Jason Leppert

From vibrant fern grottos and lush volcanic landscapes to fire and hula dancers, the full Hawaiian experience was alive and well during my recent Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) inter-island sailing in Hawaii.

According to Harry Sommer, president and CEO of NCL, “bookings have been great” for the product. The challenge is not traveler demand; rather, it’s staffing the ship. The U.S.-registered Pride of America is still the only vessel to offer weeklong voyages exclusively within the islands. (It does not need to call on a foreign port to satisfy the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 like other foreign-flagged cruise ships.)

Guests visit Kahului, Maui; Hilo, Hawaii; Kona, Hawaii; and Nawiliwili, Kauai, roundtrip from Honolulu. During the voyage, shore excursion options are varied, allowing clients to see everything from dramatic waterfalls to the breathtaking Waimea Canyon. Pride of America’s departure from Kauai also includes a sailing along the Napali Coast, which, given the recent release of the new “Jurassic World: Dominion” film, provides no better way for fans to be transported to the original setting of the franchise.

Staffing Shortages May Change the Onboard Experience

Clients should be aware that the onboard experience will differ somewhat from pre-pandemic days. On our sailing, the crew count was under 550 (the ship is normally staffed at around 920 to 940 employees). Despite a presence at multiple job fairs and raising pay scales a couple of times, the line has struggled to lure staff onboard, a problem that local Hawaiian hotels are also experiencing, according to Sommer.

RELATED: 

As such, guest capacity was cut to about 1,100 versus the vessel’s typical double-occupancy numbers of 2,186, and a number of dining venues were not available.

However, the changes will not hurt the passenger experience, according to Sommer, who notes that the passenger-to-crew ratio and resulting service levels have not been watered down.

 

Clients on Pride of America’s Hawaii sailings can see a variety of Hawaii scenery.

Clients on Pride of America’s Hawaii sailings can see a variety of Hawaii scenery.
Credit: 2022 Jason Leppert

“We will not ever lower our standards for guest service,” he said.

Sommer expects guest and crew numbers to remain this way through the summer, with the hopes that everything will reach 100% by Christmas (including the reopening of currently closed eateries La Cucina (Italian), Modern Churrascaria and the ship’s Teppanyaki room and sushi bar.

But that’s not to say the shipboard cuisine we did experience onboard was any less impressive. Jefferson’s Bistro was fantastic, and even the Aloha Cafe buffet was exceptional. In fact, some of our greatest meals onboard were from the self-service venue, including excellent daily pizzas and sweet fruit crumbles.

Accommodations and Amenities Onboard the Refurbished Ship

Overall, the recently refurbished ship shines. Balcony staterooms and their bathrooms run smaller, as is expected for a ship of Pride of America’s vintage, but accommodations remain comfortable. The greatest disappointment here was how inordinately long it took cabins to be ready — well into the afternoon — for occupancy at embarkation.

The patriotic ambiance of the ship remains, as does its U.S.A.-themed public spaces. Still great is the S/S America Library and its historical passenger ship exhibits. The Gold Rush Saloon is a favorite watering hole, even though its bar service has been temporarily suspended. The rustic cabin vibe might be better served in Alaska, though, making this a perfect spot to eventually place a tiki bar instead. 

All of this is to say: Hawaii is ready for clients, and Pride of America is nearing its prime time. It’s just important to know what customers can accurately expect for 2022. For some, it may be best to hold off until 2023.

In the meantime, Sommer reiterated that agents remain hugely important to Norwegian.

“Travel advisors continue to be our single largest source of business,” he said, adding that individual agency sales are approaching 2019 levels. 

So, mutual success is already on the horizon in Hawaii and beyond.

 

The Best Things to Do With Kids in Sonoma County, California

Jun 14, 2022

Adventure Travel  California  Culinary  Family Travel  

 

Although Sonoma is known for its wineries, the area also has several kid-friendly activities. // © 2016 iStock 2

Although Sonoma is known for its wineries, the area also has several kid-friendly activities.
Credit: 2022 iStock 2

The drive from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to Sonoma County wine country takes about an hour, winding through Northern California’s cityscapes, fields and scenic vineyards. Home to more than 425 wineries, this region may not be the first spot that comes to mind when planning a family vacation, but Sonoma offers more than just award-winning grapes.

In fact, families will find redwood forests, a sandy stretch of coast, a wild side some folks call the “Sonoma Serengeti” — and even characters from “Peanuts” comics.

Sonoma Zipline Adventures

Get an adrenaline rush from the get-go at Sonoma Zipline Adventures, located deep in rural Sonoma County. Start your vacation off with a panoramic treetop course that includes seven ziplines, two sky bridges and a photo-worthy spiral staircase before the grand-finale rappel back to the forest floor. (Note: Children must be at least 10 years old and weigh 70 pounds to participate.) 

Occidental and Union Hotel Restaurant

After the tour, families can enjoy having their feet back on solid ground while exploring the tiny nearby town of Occidental. Grab a bite to eat at Union Hotel Restaurant, a popular Italian spot complete with traditional red-and-white-checkered tablecloths (open Friday to Sunday).

Sonoma Coast State Park

Don’t miss out on a day at the beach during your Sonoma County getaway. Just a 30-minute drive from Occidental is Sonoma Coast State Park, a scenic 17-mile stretch perfect for strolling and playing in the sand. Leave your swimsuit at home, though; the surf here is rough and cold. Check out the wildlife at Goat Rock Beach in Jenner, where harbor seals sometimes outnumber people. From March through June, protective seal moms line the sand with their pups.

Santa Rosa and Safari West

If the sea air gets everyone’s stomachs grumbling again, head inland for a stop at Betty’s Fish & Chips, a small hole-in-the-wall fish-fry joint in Santa Rosa. Stay long enough to enjoy the homemade pie for dessert, then make the 20-minute drive north to Safari West. Spread over 400 acres, the wildlife preserve is home to cheetahs, giraffes and more than 900 animals from some 90 unique species. Explore the area on an Africa-style safari, then extend your adventure with an overnight stay in luxe glamping tents imported from Botswana. Just like kids on

The Petrified Forest

Keep the wild rumpus going with a short hop over to the Petrified Forest. Here, parents and kids alike will feel inestimably small as they step back in time 3 million years and walk among giant redwood trees that were preserved by thick layers of volcanic ash. Self-guided tours average about 40 minutes, and good walking shoes are a must, as some trails have uneven surfaces.

See Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Friends

After time-traveling to a preserved ancient forest, step back into modern life with a visit to see Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the “Peanuts" gang at Charles M. Schulz Museum. Watch the iconic animated specials in the 100-seat theater, read comic strips and maybe even discover how to become a cartoonist in the hands-on Education Room. Just across the street from the museum is the chalet-style Snoopy’s Home Ice rink, where kids can go for a twirl on the ice or sip hot chocolate served with a generous topping of whipped cream by the fire in the Warm Puppy Cafe.

Family-Friendly Wine Country

For parents who want to experience everything wine country has to offer without worrying about keeping the kids entertained, Francis Ford Coppola Winery is the perfect spot. The property has two seasonal pools, four bocce courts and a tent filled with children’s books — and, of course, more than 40 wines produced on-site for the adults in the group. Movie buffs will appreciate the Academy Awards, film props (including a Tucker car on a revolving stage) and costumes on display in the on-site Coppola film memorabilia collection.

Editor's Note: This story was originally published Feb. 1, 2016. It has been updated to reflect current operations and openings. 

When to Go

Sonoma County has a Mediterranean climate. Temperatures rarely drop below freezing during the rainy winter season. During the summer, very warm days are typically followed by cool nights thanks to coastal fog. Weather can vary from the coast to inland areas, so layers are a good idea any time of the year.

Getting There

San Francisco International Airport and Oakland International Airport are both about a 2½-hour drive from Sonoma County. However, Alaska Airlines offers direct flights to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, and all the carrier’s flights originating from the small airport include a case of wine as part of the free luggage allowance. Regardless of airport choice, travelers should plan on renting a car.

 

 

 

 

 

Dispatch, Viking Octantis: Put the Viking spa on your 'bucket list'

By Andrea Zelinski 

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Jun 27, 2022

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After spending time in the steam room, an ice-cold bucket shower beckons.

After spending time in the steam room, an ice-cold bucket shower beckons. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

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ABOARD THE VIKING OCTANTIS -- I was in a square shower room. A wooden bucket loomed over my head. I was daunted. 

The bucket was filled with cold water and I imagined how cold it might be. I overimagined. A silver chain hung nearby and I knew that I was supposed to pull it -- if brave enough. 

The Viking Octantis, Viking's first expedition ship, is full of toys for adventurers -- kayaks, speedy special operations boats and even a pair of submarines. But as I was standing under this bucket in the ship's spa, this felt like the most intimidating adventure of all. 

I pulled the chain. 

 

Snow falling down in the Snow Grotto.

Snow falling down in the Snow Grotto. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

The water was just as cold as I imagined. I did everything I could not to yelp in surprise like this was the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014. But unlike then, this bucket drenching followed 10 to 15 minutes in the steam room, and I was now refreshed and willing to do it again. 

This feature on the Octantis is also found on the line's seven oceangoing ships. Tapping the Scandinavian heritage of the line's founder, Torstein Hagen, the practices of contrasting hot and cold experiences are meant to bring people more in tune with nature. 

I returned to the steam room refreshed and stayed there another 10 minutes or so before my next adventure: the Snow Grotto. Here, I stood in the center of the room and snow fell from above my head, sometimes in flakes, sometimes in clumps like snow plopping off a tree.

I suddenly realized that I've never gotten snowed on in a bathing suit, which makes the whole experience more novel and cold.

After a session in the dry sauna, complete with round wooden paddles, I headed for the Experience Shower. This felt like an adult shower game: mix and match any combo of five shower options and temperatures.

The first option gave me the feeling of standing in the rain, and a second one made me feel like I was in a downpour. 

 

The dry sauna on the Viking Octantis.

The dry sauna on the Viking Octantis. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

A third option featured a single, smooth stream of water as if a soda stream opened over my head. A fourth feature had three showerheads diagonally cross-spray me from my left and right sides. A fifth option was a handheld showerhead. 

The Experience Shower was the most popular place to rinse off in the spa. 

The Octantis doubles down on this transition from hot to cold waters in the aft of the ship at the Aquavit Terrace, a bar and pool area with a retracting roof.

There are three pools here. A Tepidarium infinity pool is accessible from both inside and outside. Outside, there is a Caldarium with hot water and the Frigidarium filled with cold water. Guests can climb pool ladders between the three tubs.

 

The Aquavit Terrace features the Tepidarium, Caldarium and Frigidarium pools.

The Aquavit Terrace features the Tepidarium, Caldarium and Frigidarium pools. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

Back in the spa is the Badestamp, aka hot tub. What's novel about the Badestamp on the Octantis is it sits behind a permanently half-open window, allowing the cool air and snow in the Antarctic to waft in and even pile up on the ledge of the tub. When it's that cold, there is a basket of almost beanie-like hats to choose from to keep the head warm. 

The spa on the Octantis builds on the experiences found on other oceangoing ships but makes improvements. In addition to the standard spa and sauna experiences, the Octantis' mineral pool faces the windows on the port side. On ocean ships, the pool has no window view. 

Another new element on this ship is the Hygge massage, which translates to cozy and comforting. It was performed on a warm bed of small quartz stones. I opted for a 50-minute upper body massage. 

 

Relaxing in the Badestamp.

Relaxing in the Badestamp. Photo Credit: Andrea Zelinski

My masseuse started by piling the stones against my legs to warm them and loosen the muscles. The heat is said to be good for arthritis, muscular aches and pains because the heat increases circulation in conjunction with the massage. It felt almost like she was packing sand against my calves on the beach, except these stones were warm and comforting. The Hygge is also offered as an 80-minute full-body massage. 

As refreshing as the massage was, I'll go home remembering how it felt to stand under that cold bucket.