Friday, November 17, 2017

Germany introduces a new commuter train

Germany's ICE competes well with the TGVs of France (wikipedia)

GERMANY  Germany and France have been competitors in rail technology for several decades. Now Germany is introducing innovative train concepts for commuters.

In 1964 when Japan introduced the Shinkansen, better known to Americans as the "Bullet Train", for the Olympic games in Tokyo, the world of transportation changed forever.
Shinkansen "Bullet Trains" 
high speed rail service
in 1964 in Japan (wikipedia)
Since that time, both France and Germany have been leaders in high speed rail technology which has altered the face of travel throughout Western Europe. Today, with the advent of the European Union, passengers are now able to cross international borders and visit major destinations in other countries with little more than a rail ticket and their passport, all while being whisked from city center to city center through breathtaking panoramas at just under 200 mph.
Frankfurt's main railway station is always busy  (wikipedia)
European rail travel hearkens to the golden age of travel where getting to an exotic locale was as much a part of the adventure as the destination itself.

In those days rails represented grand suites, champagne and gourmet cuisine amid the charms of steaming through the countryside in elegant first-class comfort.
Switzerland's Gotthard Base
Tunnel is a masterpiece of
engineering (wikipedia)
Though some of those nostalgic rail journeys still exist, the more contemporary version of riding trains has become a matter of time and convenience with innovations such as the Channel Tunnel and the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland considerably shortening travel times.

Europe is becoming more accessible than ever before.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Germany introduced its newest incarnation of future train transportation last week with the unveiling of the "Ideezug."]
Ideezug will feature swivel chairs among its innovations
Unlike high speed trains, the "Idea Train" will offer state-of-the-art regional services for commuters. The project, which has been in development for years, is still a work in progress, but, as the name suggests, constant alterations and services may well become a permanent feature as German trains consistently adapt to technological advances.

Designed to compete with growing enthusiasm for driverless cars as well as the opening of Germany's A94 highway connecting Munich with Simbach am Inn in 2019, the Idea Train plans to incorporate a series of innovations that will counter the competition.
ICE ready to depart in Leipzig
Though the route for the Idea Train is yet to be determined, if it is a success, it will not be long before the entire country will be linked with such regional services.

Among the offerings, which are still under consideration for practicality and feasibility, Idea Trains currently plan to be decked out with "reservable sports cabins" that include spin bikes and digital personal trainers. There will also be big screen TVs,  areas to play video games and "privacy pods" where travelers can rest between stops.

Riders suffering from motion sickness will have access to swivel chairs that face in any direction. This idea has long been a feature of Japanese train services which may have the most diverse collection of train configurations anywhere in the world.
Eurostar high speed train exits the Channel Tunnel  (wikipedia)
The Idea Train will also incorporate "noise canceling" seats, though European trains are typically quiet in their own right.

According to Jörg Sandvoss, the CEO of Deutsche Bahn Regio, “When developing such concepts, it is not about implementing a train with all the creative ideas at once, but rather taking individual approaches into consideration for new trains.”

Germany's high speed ICE races through the countryside
(germany travel)
There seem to be no limit to the innovations available to the visionary creations of luxury rail travel. For example, Japan's new Suite Train Shiki-Shima offers suites with fireplaces and food prepared by Japan's first Michelin-starred chef. Such services have become a daily ritual for Japanese commuters.

In the meantime, Amtrak is attempting to get its trains to arrive and depart on time. One can only hope.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Dancing with the stars at sea in Asia

The production team on Celebrity Millennium is first class in every way  (Cristian Silasi)
SOUTH CHINA SEA  You have to go a long way to top the quality and production values of the entertainment offered by Celebrity Cruises.

Shipboard musicians are first-rate providing varied and superb accompaniment for a highly talented array of outside performers as well as the line's own singers and dancers.
Gymnastics on the dance floor
(Cristian Silasi)
All cruise lines offer shipboard productions but frequently they are a blend of colorful costumes and second tier talent...lots of sizzle without the steak. Not with Celebrity. From the moment Celebrity's exuberant youthful artists step on the stage you know you are in for something unique. This is major league stuff that goes beyond traditional onboard entertainment.
Enthusiasm, talent and first-rate choreography define Millennium's dancers  (Cristian Silasi)
The key is the obvious enthusiasm and joy each performer brings to their shows twice each night. They are dedicated to their craft and they demonstrate it with precision movements, graceful leaps and outstanding showmanship.

For the dance team on Celebrity Millennium, it began in March of this year when they gathered in Florida for two months of intensive rehearsals before heading to sea.
Bob Fosse would be proud of the Millennium dancers
(Cristian Silasi)
Now sailing through Asia the performers have been entertaining passengers ever since leaving cruisers electrified with the rhythms of fast-paced music and intricate choreography that brings audiences to their feet after each performance.

Celebrity features 18 productions which have been exclusively created for their onboard shows. Obviously, all of the presentations are not performed on any single cruise, but depending upon the length of the itinerary, passengers will experience at least three or more of them.

Leaps and bounds
(Cristian Silasi)
Thanks to the popularity of the television reality show "Dancing with the Stars", in one production the dance team swings into a rousing extravaganza of classic ballroom dances ranging from the passionate tango to rhythms of the rhumba in a blitz of the old razzle-dazzle and more than its share of energy.

Each show is less than an hour but each is filled with enough pure entertainment that every evening presents a new adventure.

Another show designed especially for Celebrity  Millennium features Boogie Woogie music adapted from the hit West End musical of the 70s. The story follows disco hits throughout the decade that somehow lost its way in a world of psychedelic fashion.
"Phantom of the Opera" is a highlight of "iBroadway"
(Cristian Silasi)
Watching the "iBroadway" show leaves audiences breathlessly wondering how the performers can keep up the pace twice in a night. Incorporating music from the most popular Broadway shows and presenting them in a fast-paced slick contemporary production pays tribute to the best of the theatrical stages in London and New York.
Duties also include dance instruction for passengers  (Taylor)
Beyond their shows however, the cast also instructs  passengers in ballroom dance classes including Meringue, Swing and other favorites.

Night owls typically head for one of the lounges following dinner and, often, the singers and dancers are on hand again to rev up nocturnal passengers, especially when the next day is at sea and "sleeping in" is on the agenda.
Millennium's singers and band are equally superb
(Cristian Silasi)
Though it may appear glamorous on the surface, shipboard life can be a grind. The hours are long and frequently erratic. The crew from wait staff to housekeeping to lounge musicians to the entertainers always appreciate an acknowledgement of their efforts to offer their passengers the best possible cruise experience.
Stars in every way
(Cristian Silasi)
Currently Millennium's show team is in rehearsal for a new production. When combined with their other regular duties, free time is of the essence as the work load increases.

In the end however, it is the passengers who benefit with yet another first-rate world class show.
Celebrity Millennium in port in Asia  (wikipedia)
After each performance cast members greet passengers for congratulations and pictures, but, for the entertainers the story runs far deeper. For this is about the love of music and dance and the joy of theater.

Cruising is great value for the travel dollar, but with the Celebrity singers, dancers and bands you get unsurpassed bang for your buck.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Caribbean islands hurricane update

The sunshine is back in much of the Caribbean after the hurricanes   (Taylor)
CARIBBEAN -- Hurricane season 2017 in the Caribbean is one the islands would just as soon forget. Two major storms, Irma and Maria, took a massive toll on property and hotels which are a critical source of tourism revenue.
If you are planning a cruise or intend to head to the sunny shores and clear blue waters of the islands, you should check ahead with the cruise lines and hotels in order to know what your options will be before you depart.
Avenue of the Palms at Nisbet Plantation on Nevis  (Taylor)
Note that this is an extensive list but not necessarily a complete one. Also remember that the dates given at the time of inquiry were only estimates and, therefore, some properties may be ahead of schedule while others may have found more damage than anticipated. This is only intended as a general planning guide.

Here is a general listing of how most of the Caribbean destinations fared and their current status.
Mayan Temple at Xunantanich in Belize  (Taylor)
Islands not Affected by Hurricanes: If you are a beach and coconut oil lover these islands were generally damage-free and are still operating with business as usual: Antigua (note however that sister island, Barbuda took a big hit), Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cancun/Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Mexico, Curacao, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Montserrat, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands  Several hotel properties were scheduled for annual closure prior to Irma; some properties have now elected to remain closed, to assess damage to their properties.
Irma and Maria took their toll, but the Caribbean is bouncing back
Islands Damaged by the Hurricanes: This is a list of islands which were hardest hit by Irma and Maria. Damage to each island and each property varies so be sure to check in advance before booking a reservation.

Anguilla: Anguilla suffered major damage from Hurricane Irma. Government and business buildings, electricity infrastructure and the main water supply had significant damage. Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport (AXA) is now open from sunrise to sunset for charters and emergency flights only

Here is the status of individual hotels:

Carimar Beach Club: The resort will reopen on December 21.

CeBlue Villas & Beach Resort: The resort was closed for the season, so no guests were on property. The villas and resort buildings are all structurally sound, and the resort looks forward to welcoming guests for the season.
CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and The Reef by CuisinArt: Planning to be closed until summer 2018 for repairs.

Four Seasons Resort & Residences Anguilla: Closed for the remainder of 2017.

Fountain Anguilla: Resort buildings and grounds are structurally intact, but a few units suffered some damage from debris. Clean up is under way and the resort is expected to open for the season.

Frangipani Beach Resort: Annual opening date has been pushed back to December 2017.

Malliouhana, an Auberge Resort: There appears to be no major structural damage to the resort. A team is now assessing the extent of the clean up required and will advise on their proposed reopening date.

Quintessence Boutique Resort: The property sustained a fair amount of damage, and the proposed opening date of November 1 has bee delayed.

Zemi Beach House: The property held strong and will be able to welcome guests soon, although the timing is still uncertain.

Barbuda: Barbuda was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma while sister island Antigua is open for business and excursions.

Individual Hotel Status on Antigua and Barbuda:

Carlisle Bay: Resort was closed and did not sustain any significant damage. Reopened October 15.

Curtain Bluff: Property emerged without any damage. Clean up has begun and communications will soon be restored. Planned reopening October 28.

Cocos Hotel: No long-term damage

Galley Bay: An in-depth assessment of the property is in progress.

Hermitage Bay: All is well.

Jumby Bay Island:  No structural damage to the resort or homes on the island, however landscaping clean up is needed. Reopening was scheduled for October 9

Keyonna Beach Resort: No long-term damage.

Pineapple Beach Club: Open for business

Sandals Grande Antigua: Sustained superficial damage but a complete assessment is underway. Due to the impact of Irma and the timing of the previously announced closure for resort maintenance, the resort will remain closed and will reopen on December 20, 2017.

St. James Club: Open for business.

Verandah Resort & Spa: Scheduled reopening October 14 after renovations.
Beautiful sunsets have returned in the aftermath of the storms
The Bahamas: The Bahamas is getting back to business. Parts of the southern islands were more heavily impacted with damage ranging from cosmetic to severe structural damage.

The majority of hotel and resorts throughout the Islands of the Bahamas are operating as usual or are expected to reopen on their regularly scheduled dates. Reservation holders are encouraged to contact their respective hotels for more information.

Nassau and Paradise Island hotels received no damage. While many remained open, others are resuming normal operation. Grand Bahama Island hotels began resuming operations on Wednesday, September 13. The following hotels are definitely open, although this may not be a complete list:

Nassau and Paradise Island:

The Exumas:

Grand Bahama Island:

Bimini Big Game Club Resort and Marina Resort reopened September 29.

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation will be releasing updates on islands, hotels and services on
The BVI was hit hard by Irma and Maria  (Taylor)
British Virgin Islands: Destruction from Hurricane Irma in the British Virgin Islands was been devastating, according to a statement from Sharon Flax-Brutus, the director of tourism. With cell phone towers down and power outages, communication to, from and within the territory has been difficult, impacting the ability to fully assess the damage.

Individual Hotel Status in the BVI:

Anegada Reef: The resort did not suffer any damage from the hurricane.

Bitter End Yacht Club: The hotel was not operational due to annual closure.

Guana Island: Closed at this time.

Rosewood Little Dix Bay: Currently closed for renovation.

Scrub Island: All guests and associates are safe.

Sugar Mill Hotel: The hotel suffered manageable damage, reopened October 14

Cuba is cleaning up and still recovering  (wikipedia)
Cuba: Cuba reported that Havana experienced major flooding, with power out and widespread wind damage.


Dominica: Dominica suffered major damage from Hurricane Maria.


Dominican Republic: Hurricane Maria flooded some parts of the northern Dominican Republic as it brought a lot of rain and high winds.


Haiti: Haiti was relatively unharmed. The country continues to welcome visitors. Travelers are advised to contact their local travel or booking agent for detailed arrangements about their bookings. 


Moulin Sur Mer Hotel has advised it was not affected by Hurricane Irma.

Puerto Rico was among the islands hardest hit  (wikipedia)
Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico suffered major damage from Hurricane Maria. 

All travelers should contact their airlines and hotels directly for specific information.

Travelers who are thinking of visiting Puerto Rico should visit for updated travel information.

The following hotels are closed and not taking new reservations until further notice: If you have an existing reservation in the coming days, please contact the hotel directly for rebooking.

Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
W Retreat & Spa in Vieques
Gran Melia
Coral by the Sea Hotel
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa (planning to reopen at the end of the year)
Royal Isabela

The following hotels are open and have begun taking new reservations:
Hyatt Place San Juan
Hyatt House San Juan
Verdanza Hotel
Hyatt Hacienda del Mar (Dorado)
Hotel El Convento
Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel
AC Hotel by Marriott San Juan Condado
La Concha Resort
InterContinental San Juan in Isla Verde
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
The Wave Hotel
Holiday Inn Express San Juan Condado Hotel by IHG
Canario Boutique Hotel
Coral Princess Hotel
At Wind Chimes Boutique Hotel
Best Western Condado Palm Inn & Suites
Comfort Inn San Juan
Hotel Miramar
Hotel Villa Montaña & Spa
Caribe Hilton
The Condado Plaza Hilton
Embassy Suites by Hilton Dorado del Mar Beach Resort
Embassy Suites by Hilton San Juan Hotel & Casino
Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort
Hampton Inn & Suites San Juan
El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel San Juan

The following hotel is no longer accepting existing or new reservations through December 31:
El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort

Nevis has a perpetual cloud atop its mountain  (wikipedia)

St. Kitts and Nevis: St. Kitts is reporting the island is resuming normal operations, as it was fortunate to escape major damage from the passage of Hurricane Maria.

All hotels in St. Kitts are fully operational and those properties that do not engage in regular seasonal closures are open and servicing guests. The Port Zantecruise pier did not sustain damage and has started welcoming vessels. Park Hyatt remains on track to debut in November.

Individual Hotel Status in St. Kitts & Nevis:
Four Seasons Resort Nevis: The resort and phone lines are working.

Montpelier Plantation & Beach: Received no damage from Hurricane Irma or Maria and reopened October 8.

Mount Nevis Hotel & Beach Club: Received no damage with business as usual.

Nisbett Plantation Beach Club: Has reopened and welcomes reservations

Ocean Terrace Inn: No property damage and remains open and operating for guests.

St. Barth: St. Barth was heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma, which destroyed government buildings and badly damaged private homes.

St. Maarten / St. Martin: The island was badly damaged by the hurricane and the recovery effort continues. The first cruise ship bringing passengers is expected back in port on November 11.

Nothing beats a nap on the beach  (Taylor)
Individual Hotel Status in St. Maarten/St. Martin:

Beach Plaza: Badly damaged
Belair Beach Hotel: Sustained damage that will take time to repair. Phone service and internet are down.
Esmeralda Resort: Hotel is 70 percent destroyed.
Hotel Mercure: Damaged
La Vista Hotel: The Beach building is in decent shape. Roof tiles were damaged but the roof itself is still there. Some water damage and missing doors and windows.
Oyster Bay Beach Resort: Significant damage.
Princess Heights: Minor damage.
Riu Palace St. Martin: Infrastructures severely affected.
Summit Resort Hotel: Due to extensive damages, the Summit Resort will remain closed.
Westin Dawn Beach: Significant damage. The hotel is waiving cancellation and change fees for specific arrival dates and suggests customers call 1-888-625-4988 for more information about their reservations. Those in countries outside of the United States seeking information about their reservations should call the SPG toll-free number in their country.
Sonesta: Resort damage is severe. All further reservations from now through the end of 2017 have been cancelled.

The Sands at Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos is open again
Turks and Caicos Islands: Providenciales International Airport (PLS) is open. Several of the hotel properties were scheduled for annual closure prior to Irma; some properties have now elected to remain closed, to assess any damage but  planned to reopen by the beginning to middle of October 2017.


Individual Hotel Status in the Turks & Caicos:
Alexandra Resort: Open
Amanyara: Open
Beach Enclave: Open
Beach House: Open
Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa: Open December 14
Blue Haven Resort: Open
Caribbean Paradise Inn: Open
Club Med Turquoise: Open
COMO Parrot: Scheduled closing Aug. 26 through to November 19
East Bay Resort: Open December 15
Gansevoort Turks & Caicos, A Wymara Resort: Open
Grace Bay Club: Open
La Vista Azul: Open
Ocean Club Resorts: Open
Pelican Nest: Open
Point Grace: Open
Ports of Call Resort: Open November 25
Royal West Indies Resort: Open
Seven Stars Resort: Open
Sibonne Boutique Hotel: Open
The Meridian Club: Opened November 1
The Palms Turks and Caicos: Open
The Regent Grand: Open
The Sands At Grace Bay: Open
The Shore Club: Open
The Tuscany: Open
The Venetian: Open
Villa Del Mar: Open
West Bay Club: Open
Windsong Resort: Open

The storms are over and rebuilding continues  (Taylor)

U.S. Virgin Islands: All three of the Virgin Islands suffered damage from both hurricanes. The Department of Tourism continues to encourage travelers to postpone trips to the islands until hotels are back up and running. Cruise ships began return to St. Thomas and St. Croix in mid-October..


St. Croix:

The Buccaneer: Open for business.
Caravelle Hotel & Casino : Received ground floor flooding and some damage. The hotel is operational as no rooms were flooded. No online bookings are available at this time, so travelers must call the hotel.
Club Comanche Hotel St. Croix: Open and accepting guests.
Hotel on the Cay: Survived Hurricane Maria. Guests are asked to check back for reservations beyond the next 30 days.
Sand Castle On The Beach: Suffered only minor damage and cleanup is under way. Not accepting reservations until essential services are restored.

St. John:

Caneel Bay: Closed for the remainder of 2017.
Estate Lindholm: Anticipated a November 1 reopening based on Hurricane Irma's impact
The Westin St. John Resort Villas: The resort and the surrounding areas experienced some damage. The resort is waiving hotel cancellation and change fees for specific arrival dates. Customers should call 1-800-228-9290 (US) for more information about their reservations. Those in countries outside of the United States seeking information about their reservations should call the Marriott toll-free number in their country.

St. Thomas:

Bolongo Bay Beach Resort: Currently looking to reopen second or third week of December as the resort is housing people in need and a multitude of workers trying to help the island.
Bluebeard's Castle Resort: Sustained major damage.
Marriott Frenchman's Reef & The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas:: As of September 11, Marriott International has advised the resort is closed until further notice. The resort is waiving hotel cancellation and change fees for specific arrival dates. Customers should call 1-800-228-9290 (US) for more information about their reservations. Those in countries outside of the United States seeking information about their reservations should call the Marriott toll-free number in their country.

Margaritaville Vacation Club: Club Wyndham Reservations advises that all four St. Thomas resorts should be re-opening in mid-October, including Margaritaville Vacation Club, Bluebeard's Beach Club, WorldMark St. Thomas and Elysian Beach Resort.

Point Pleasant Resort: The resort and a large portion of the island are still without power and water. Suggest guests cancel all reservations due to arrive through November 15.

 Secret Harbour Beach Resort: No major structural damage to the buildings.

Sugar Bay Resort & Spa: As of September 18, the resort is closed. A re-opening date has not been set.

Windward Passage: As of September 18, the resort is closed until further notice.