Posts made in June, 2013

Old Hong Kong Airport Opens As Cruise Terminal

Posted on Jun 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Old Hong Kong Airport Opens As Cruise Terminal

by Chris Owen

Old Hong Kong Airport Opens As Cruise Terminal.  Hong Kong’s $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal is open and processing cruise travelers as anticipated. Located at the site of the former Kai Tak International airport runway, the terminal will eventually source passengers from a pool of 50 million potential middle-class passengers in China. This week though, it’s all about the Americans.

Passengers disembarking Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas this week found a bit of a different experience than that of other cruise ports around the world. Showcasing some of what China has to offer cruise travelers, Mariner of the Seas offered passengers a kung fu demonstration, a lion dance at Mikiki mall in San Po Kong, shopping, dining and more on planned tours.

Adventure cruise travelers with a desire to go it on their own had a bit different experience, finding transportation options limited. “The terminal is fine, the building is fine but there is no good connection to the city,” passenger Fred Lutjens said in a Standard report that notes a queue of 100 people waiting for a taxi.
Kai Tak airport, which closed in 1998 after 70 years of service, was replaced by the current Chek Lap Kok International Airport. Using that valuable and available land efficiently, the $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal has the ability to handle passenger vessels as large as two of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships, the largest in the world.

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Searching for Dragons

Posted on Jun 13, 2013 | Comments Off on Searching for Dragons

The Game of Thrones season finale may mean life feels a little empty but you can cheer yourself up with a trip to Northern Ireland and the dramatic locations where the series was filmed – plus those in Iceland, Croatia and Morocc

The Guardian

Alfie Allen in Game of Thrones Balintoy

Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones

Few things make Game of Thrones fans happier then the chance to get our geek on and argue the finer points of George RR Martin’s world. So it is that I find myself in Northern Ireland‘s picturesque Ballintoy Harbour – used as the landing spot for the windswept Iron Islands in season two – waving my hands around and saying: “Well, you know, I actually feel a little sorry for Theon Greyjoy: he’s generally humiliated at every turn by pretty much everyone he knows and now he’s just spent an entire season being tortured by a nameless sadist. I sort of think the guy deserves a break …”

My fellow Game of Thrones (GoT) fan merely sighs and says, with a shake of the head: “He’s still an idiot, and a pretty ungrateful one at that.”

Balintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

Ballintoy Harbour, Northern IrelandBallintoy, a short drive from the Giant’s Causeway on County Antrim’s beautiful Causeway Coast, is just one of a number of stops on our bus trip around Northern Ireland, organised as part of a joint initiative between theNorthern Ireland Tourist Board and Northern Ireland Screen to promote tourism within the country.For just as thousands of Lord of The Rings fans flocked to New Zealandeager to pretend they were leaving the Shire like Frodo or battling the dead with Aragorn and Legolas, so the success of GoT has drawn increasing numbers to Northern Ireland. Government-backed agency Northern Ireland Screen admits to being hopeful the series “will deliver the widest media exposure Northern Ireland has received outside of politics and the Troubles”
Dark Hedges, on the route Arya Stark, masquerading as a boy, took when when escaping King’s Landing. Photograph: Northern Ireland Tourist BoardIt could be right. San Francisco-based travel company Viator recently added a nine-hour tour of the series’ Northern Irish locations to its list of trips. My taxi driver from George Best Belfast City Airport dwelt at length on how visitors to the city increasingly asked him to “take them to where Game of Thrones was made”, and locals were eager to talk of how Titanic Belfast, the impressive museum and cultural centre that opened last year, and Game of Thrones were gradually changing people’s perceptions of their country
.Dothraki camp
Dothraki camp at Shillanavogy Valley, near Slemish, County Antrim.The GoT bus tour does hammer home just how much spectacular scenery there is in Northern Ireland. Hit it on the right day – when the rain has stayed home and the usually grey skies are blue – and you’ll be rewarded with impossibly green fields, sparkling seas and jaw-dropping mountains from Mourne in the south – near Tollymore Forest park – scene of poor Theon’s desperate bid for freedom this season, to Slemish mountain, supposedly the home of Saint Patrick, which looms over Shillanavogy valley (the Dothraki grasslands, where Dany first learns what being a Khaleesi means)
.Cushendun, northern Ireland
Cushendun, Northern IrelandBest of all, however, is the small coastal village of Cushendun, from which you can see Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre on a clear day. Largely owned by the National Trust since 1954, Cushendun, with its golden beach, great pubs and fantastic self-catering cottages, is the perfect place to while away a couple of days. It’s also home to some fabulously spooky caves, and thus better-known to GoT addicts as the place where dubious Red Priestess, Melisandre of Asshai birthed her murderous shadow baby.It was easy to see why the location scouts chose them. Standing in those caves, with the wind whipping through and the water ominously edging in, it was easy to believe that we were not in 21st-century Northern Ireland but back in Martin’s world – that dark, depressing and dangerous place where the only certainty is that you win or you die.• More information on holidays in Northern Ireland For flight and ferry deals see

There’s an exhibition, too …

Game of Thrones exhibition, Belfast

Game of Thrones exhibition, BelfastDie-hard fans desperate for a fix after tonight’s season finale can head to Titanic Belfast, where an exhibition of costumes, weaponry and artefacts from the show runs until 17 June. Among the best bits are the chance to sit on the Iron Throne, to examine Dany’s dragons in model form, and to take part in your very own stimulated Battle of Blackwater. Yes, the fiery arrows are included.

It’s not just about Northern Ireland

While Northern Ireland accounts for the bulk of Game of Thrones locations, it’s not the only place where the series is filmed. Croatia, Morocco and Iceland also provide otherworldly backdrops to the backstabbing and bribery of Westeros and beyond.

Kit Harrington as Jon Snow on location in Iceland

Kit Harrington as Jon Snow on location in IcelandIceland
Iceland expert Discover The World has a four-night package, Iceland: Beyond The Wall, which allows you to take in the region’s impressive glaciers, volcanic plains and waterfalls. The package includes a night at the Hilton Nordica Hotel in Reykjavik, the base for the cast and crew during filming, and features trips to the Hofdabrekkuheidi area and the Vatnajökull glacier in Skaftafell, both of which featured in character Jon Snow’s epic trek beyond the wall. With optional activities including an Ice and Fire sightseeing flight, snowmobiling on Langjökull glacier and horse riding, it’s available June-August 2013, from £872pp (based on two sharing) including flights, B&B accommodation and car rental.Morocco
This season Morocco has formed the backdrop to Dany’s ransacking of Slaver’s Bay, with scenes shot in Essaouira and Aït Benhaddou near Ouarzazate. Epic Morocco has a 10-day Forts & Kasbahs trip which includes a visit to the Ouarzazate film studios and a three-day stay in Essaouira, for £775pp for 10 days including transport, all accommodation and some meals.Croatia
The plots and politics of King’s Landing are largely filmed in Croatia, with locations in Dubrovnik, nearby Lokrum Island and Novigrad in Istria.Completely Croatia has hotels and packages in both Dubrovnik and Novrigrad. (There is no accommodation on Lokrum, although its lakes and monastery are easily accessible from Dubrovnik with tourist boats making the 10-minute crossing every half hour in summer). US company Viator offers a three-hour walking tour of Dubrovnik.
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Airbus smart baggage tracks itself on plane trips

Posted on Jun 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Airbus smart baggage tracks itself on plane trips

Airbus luggage App


Airbus has developed a smart bag and accompanying iPhone app to reduce luggage stress while travelling.

The system, which Airbus is modestly referring to as “The reinvention of baggage”, contains sensors and an RFID chip which allow it to take care of tasks like weighing the contents of the suitcase automatically as well as communicating with the check-in system of various airlines.

Developed in partnership with mobile service provider T-Mobile and German luggage maker Rimowa, the Bag2Go system is still at the prototype stage but shows Airbus thinking beyond its traditional plane travel service provision.

According to the promotional video the app would be of use from the packing stage onwards, offering lists of restricted items and monitoring the weight of your bag’s contents. Scanning a QR code would sync your now-ready suitcase with your inventory and seal it for the journey.

Once you’ve checked your suitcase — or taken advantage of a door-to-door courier service — the app would keep you informed (well, for the parts of your journey where you’re allowed to be using electrical devices) of your bag’s progress and whether the case has been opened.

The idea is to reduce the stress associated with travel luggage, however the system does not describe any extra procedures for ensuring nothing terrible happens to your possessions beyond the fact they are being monitored. As a result, one potential scenario would have you sitting on a plane helplessly watching your bags make a round trip to a completely different country.
Speaking about the bag system, Airbus’s Chief Innovation Officer, Yann Barbaux told Australian Business Traveller that the bag is currently expected to cost only slightly more than its non-techy equivalent — somewhere in the region of a 20 percent price increase.


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Come Hell or High Water – Part 2

Posted on Jun 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Come Hell or High Water – Part 2


A survey of US consumer attitudes about cruising shows sentiment has not bounced back following the Carnival Triumph incident (the infamous “poop cruise”) but has continued to decline, with lower scores on trust, quality and intent to purchase.

Harris Interactive surveyed 2,052 adults online between May 14 and 16, prior to Grandeur of the Seas’ fire.

The average perceived quality score across the seven major brands tested is down 13% since before the Carnival Triumph incident in February and 6% compared to the Harris Poll’s post incident wave of testing in late February. While Carnival Cruises Lines’ quality score showed the steepest declines (down 28% versus pre and 12% versus post), all the other brands tested ranged individually from 8%-11% below pre levels.

The average trust score across the seven brands is also down compared to both pre (down 12%) and post (down 5%) incident; as with quality, trust showed the steepest decline for Carnival (down 26% versus pre, 11% versus post). However, the six other brands tested remain between 8%-12% below pre incident trust levels.

Intent to purchase has declined, on average, 11% from its pre incident level (and 5% from its post incident level). While this affected most of the brands tested (with most down between 7%-15% versus pre levels), Harris noted that Holland America Line’s purchase intent score has largely weathered this perceptual storm, holding at just 2% below its pre level. Carnival was hardest hit, down 20% versus pre, 8% versus post.

One-third of Americans (32%) agreed that cruises are ‘worry-free,’ down slightly from 35% in February, with past cruise experience appearing to have a considerable impact on this perception: those who have cruised (51%) are more than twice as likely to agree that cruises are ‘worry free’ as those who have not (22%).

‘When we first addressed this topic in March [when results from the February survey were announced], even we were open to the idea that a “recency bias” of sorts might be impacting the results so soon after the Triumph fiasco, creating a low tide for the industry as a whole,’ said Harris Poll Insights vp Deana Percassi. ‘But these more recent findings, coupled with reports of heavily discounted pricing on Carnival cruises, indicate that the industry as a whole, as well as the Carnival brand specifically, may still be facing rough seas.’

Reporting of the ongoing legal proceedings over the Costa sinking and the fire on board the Grandeur of the Seas is likely to show a similar decline in trust in cruising worldwide.

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Come Hell or High Water – Part 1

Posted on Jun 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Come Hell or High Water – Part 1

Amabella at Durstein DSC_9339

Several cruise companies have had to cancel or change their river voyages, with widespread flooding still affecting large parts of Central Europe.

Viking River Cruises has cancelled two cruises along the Elbe River due to sail tomorrow (June 8). It had previously cancelled three cruises along the Danube on June 8, 9 and 12. All affected passengers had been notified and offered a full refund as well as a credit to be spent on future cruises, a spokesperson said.

Viking River Cruises stated that people booked on cruises after June 16 should assume their voyage would continue as normal.

Scenic Cruises, meanwhile, has altered two of its departures from Budapest. In a statement, it said: “It is our expectation at this time the ships will be unable to dock in Budapest on those dates. Instead the ships will be docking in another location that is in the process of being determined.”

River levels continue to be critical in several parts of Europe with thousands of Hungarians working through last night to reinforce banks along the River Danube.

Authorities in the country’s capital, Budapest, have warned of a record flood surge from the Danube, which is a particularly popular destination for river cruisers.

Earlier this week, 120 British passengers on the Filia Rheni cruise ship operated by Titan Travel were stranded on the Danube when it was unable to dock in Vienna. The company cancelled the remainder of the voyage. All passengers on board were disembarked yesterday and are being flown home today. A spokesman said all passengers had been given a full refund and offered a 15 per cent discount on future cruises. Several other sailings were also cancelled.

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Finally: “ready when you are Mr DeMille”

Posted on Jun 4, 2013 | 1 comment




GUADALUPE, CA—“Egyptian” artifacts from Cecil B. DeMille’s elaborate set for his 1923 silent epic “The Ten Commandments” were recently unearthed from towering coastal sand dunes and will now be displayed at the Dunes Center, an educational visitor center related to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes preserve located in Santa Maria Valley (Northern Santa Barbara County).

Having undergone months of restoration and preservation, the artifacts will be unveiled at a 1920s-themed party happening at the Dunes Center in Guadalupe on June 14 at 6 p.m. (public admission $5), where documentary filmmaker Peter Brosnan will be on hand to discuss years of research that led to this find. An ongoing exhibit will also be open to the public at the Dunes Center, which is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. (

“This is the only set of its type from early Hollywood that still exists,” said Doug Jenzen, executive director for the Dunes Center, which is located near where the set was recovered. “We’re keeping details about the artifacts a secret until the unveiling.”  He added that one of the set pieces is so large, that it will require removing a railing from the Dunes Center porch in order to bring it inside.

The artifacts will become part of the Dunes Center’s permanent exhibit called, “The Lost City of DeMille,” which currently features some small pieces of the film set that were found years ago, including a bas-relief of a pharaoh’s face, a lion’s paw and wooden hieroglyphs that decorated the city walls. Bits of 1920s-era “litter” left by the actors and film crew also make up a curious part of the exhibit.

Last October the Dunes Center, together with Brosnan, embarked on an archeological excavation to unearth pieces of the movie set from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. These findings are the centerpiece of the June 14 event.

The Story of the Lost Hollywood Set

DeMille built a massive Egyptian “City of the Pharaoh” set including 21 five-ton Sphinxes that, over time, was fabled to have been left buried beneath the sand.

DeMille’s original set for his blockbuster included a 720-foot-wide, 120-foot-tall backdrop that required 1,500 workers, 500 tons of statuary, a half million feet of lumber and 75 miles of reinforcing cable. In May and June of 1923, DeMille employed 2,500 actors and 3,000 animals in the film, which was one of Hollywood’s last silent works yet one of its first to be made in “Technicolor.”

Over time, DeMille’s Egyptian masterpiece became known as the “Lost City,” buried by the shifting sands and forgotten by nearly everyone—except for the residents of Guadalupe who worked as extras on the film and knew all along that it had not been dismantled. To locals, it was simply “the dune that never moved.”

However, interest in the set was rekindled when DeMille, via his posthumously published 1983 autobiography, uttered the following cryptic clue: “If a thousand years from now, archeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they won’t rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization … extended all the way to the Pacific Coast.”

Unearthing History and More Films Set in the Guadalupe Dunes

This inspired documentary producer Peter Brosnan and Central Coast archaeologist John Parker to initiate plans for excavation and preservation of the film set, most of which still remains buried beneath the lone dune. Throughout his 30 years of researching the set, which included establishing a location grid via ground penetrating radar back in the 1990s, Brosnan has collected oral histories from longtime Guadalupe residents who worked on the movie.

“These interviews are vital in preserving our community’s history for future generations,” Jenzen said. He added that Brosnan has also written a book on the many movies that have been filmed in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, including the third installment of Disney’s “Pirates of The Caribbean.” Other films that have used the dunes as a dramatic backdrop include “The Son of the Sheik,” starring Rudolph Valentino; “Morocco,” starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich; and “The Last Outpost,” starring Cary Grant. More recent films that have shot at the dunes include 2004’s “Hidalgo” and 1997’s “G.I. Jane.”

What Visitors Can Enjoy at this Nature Preserve

The Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, which is open to the public, lies west of Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County, approximately 150 miles north of Los Angeles and 250 miles south of San Francisco. The preserve belongs to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex, which spans 18 miles of shoreline with 1,400 individual species of flora and fauna, as well as numerous lagoons and lakes. Here, the awe-inspiring mountains of shifting sand comprise the larger of only two coastal dunes complexes in California. They also represent the highest beach dunes in the western United States.

Visitors to the dunes are encouraged to begin their journey at the Dunes Center in the small town of Guadalupe along scenic Highway 1. Exhibits at the Dunes Center include a displays on the extraordinary biodiversity of the dunes; recovered artifacts from DeMille’s City of the Pharaoh; and a short film on the history of the “Dunites”—an “eclectic group of freethinkers, artists, poets and mystics” who inhabited the dunes from the early 1900s to 1973.

The three most popular dunes destinations are all easily accessible from the Dunes Center. Visitors wishing to drive straight to the oceanfront can take Main Street west into the heart of the Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. Nearby Oso Flaco Lake Road leads to a convenient parking area, from where visitors can take a 30-minute stroll along a boardwalk through the dunes and to the beach. And those feeling even more adventurous can hike across the dunes into the heart of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Guided hikes focused on varying themes are planned quarterly.

Visitors can find a range of lodging in nearby Santa Maria, which offers a host of additional exciting experiences, from wine tasting to world-renowned barbecue to championship golf courses.

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