Cruising – “Port Lecture” shopping honesty – in Alaska, at least

Posted on Aug 28, 2013 | Comments Off on Cruising – “Port Lecture” shopping honesty – in Alaska, at least


Cruise ships in Alaska have had to change their ways when it comes to those ubiquitous port lectures about “the best places to shop.”

Following a court case that claimed the lectures mislead guests, who often believe they are sponsored by the cruise line, the guides now must make it clear that what they are offering is not professional advice but rather an advertisement for paying clients. The companies admitted no wrongdoing, but did agree that port lecturers would disclose they didn’t work for cruise lines and are engaged in advertising.

The Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN) reported last week that earlier this year three Florida-based companies, Onboard Media, Royal Media Partners, and the PPI Group, agreed to a $200,000 settlement with the state.

They  agreed from now on to be clear about whom they work for, to desist from making negative comments about stores not in their programs, and to stick to the truth about sale prices and return policies.

APRN quoted one anonymous shopkeeper who said he had in the past paid $25,000 plus 10% of sales to be part of the programs.

A million tourists visit Southeast Alaska every summer, and they are a key part of the economy of the 49th state.

Alaska is the first state to crack down on port lecturers.

Monday, August 26, 2013

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The ultimate travel umbrella

Posted on May 26, 2013 | Comments Off on The ultimate travel umbrella

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 9.17.01 AM

One of the essential things to pack on any trip is a travel umbrella.

It’s about size, weight, coverage, durability, a reliable auto-open mechanism and easy close.

The ultimate travel umbrella may have arrived with the new Blunt XS Metro umbrella, armed with a tough radial tensioning system that keeps the 33-inch-diameter canopy from collapsing or flipping inside-out when challenged.

Reinforced patching at the tips keeps them from poking through at pressure points, the nice big auto-on button is handily flush against the shaft, and the two-stage collapse system is smooth and friendly.  And, the XS Metro is cute to boot — with wavy curves along the edge, instead of sharp points.

It comes in seven colors, from gumdrop blue, yellow or pink, to bold red, and if you must black.

At a thickish 14 inches long when collapsed, and weighing 13 ounces, this isn’t the sveltest model around, but it wasn’t built for drizzles, and may more than earn its keep when the going gets wet.

Blunt XS Metro umbrella is $49 at


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36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand –

Posted on May 25, 2013 | Comments Off on 36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand –

36 Hours in Auckland, New Zealand


Admittedly, few fly all the way to New Zealand just to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. Most aim to explore the otherworldly landscapes with which, thanks to the silver screen, this remote nation has become associated. But before delving into the cinematic beauty of the North Island countryside, discover the San Francisco-steep streets and regenerated neighborhoods of newly vibrant Auckland. This multicultural city, home to a third of all Kiwis, has recently welcomed a raft of bars, boutiques and restaurants that highlight locally made products, from excellent craft beer and wine to fashion and art. And none of it has anything to do with orcs or rings.


1. 3:30 p.m. | National Portraits

One highlight of the Auckland Art Gallery (Corner Kitchener and Wellesley Streets;; free), which reopened in September 2011 after a three-year expansion, is the gallery of turn-of-the-century portraits depicting Maori leaders, many with exquisite tattoos. The museum’s permanent collection, spread across four levels, also includes commissioned works from contemporary Kiwi artists. After a tour, stroll through the adjacent Albert Park or refuel with a Snickers cookie (3.50 New Zealand dollars, or $3 at 1.18 New Zealand dollars to the U.S. dollar) at the new Moustache Milk & Cookie Bar, two blocks from the gallery (12 Wellesley Street West;

2. 7 p.m. | Seafood Depot

Seattle has its Space Needle, while on the opposite side of the Pacific, Auckland answers with the Sky Tower — over 1,000 feet tall. But the most noteworthy action happening near this imposing landmark is at its base, at Depot (86 Federal Street;, a seafood-centric bistro. This new restaurant is invitingly rustic — ice-cold pewter water mugs, tall stools clustered around wood-plank tables — and the fresh seafood is top-notch. A recent meal started with some shucked-to-order oysters from Marlborough’s Tio Point, followed by spicy mussels with chorizo and garlic; kingfish sashimi cubes atop dollops of oyster cream; and sliders stuffed with hapuka, lemon mayo and watercress. Dinner for two, about 70 New Zealand dollars.

3. 10 p.m. | Britomart Bars

The once-derelict Britomart district near the port has recently transformed into a bubbling night-life hub with new bars and restaurants housed in handsomely renovated historic buildings. Start at Xuxu (Corner Commerce and Galway Streets;, an elegant French-Vietnamese-inspired hideaway serving inventive snacks and cocktails like the Chanh Bac Ha (rum, palm sugar and Vietnamese mint; 16 New Zealand dollars). Then stroll to the Japanese-themed bar Fukuko (48 Tyler Street;, which opened in December, for steamed pork buns (4.50 dollars) and shochu tonics flavored with spiced jasmine and green tea (9 dollars).


4. 9 a.m. | Walk to the Market

Wake up with a walk through the Auckland Domain, a sprawling 185-acre park southeast of the city center whose peaceful paths wind through wooded areas and around expansive swaths of grassy lawn. When hunger strikes, stray a block from the southern edge of the park to the Parnell Farmers’ Market (545 Parnell Road;, where stalls overflow with local products. Bite into a bacon-and-egg bap (sandwich) with spicy tomato sauce (5 New Zealand dollars) while listening to a musician strum a guitar, and then sample the goods at the Hakanoa Ginger Beer stand and the mouthwatering varieties at the NZ Cheeseman stall.

510:30 a.m. | Kiwi Culture

If you’ve ever wondered about Maori culture, what a kiwi bird actually looks like, or why Auckland’s streets are so hilly, visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum (Museum Circuit;, steps from the market on the edge of the domain. Don’t be fooled by the name: in addition to housing a war memorial, the museum features three floors of interactive exhibits that explain New Zealand’s history, geography, ethnography and culture, from prehistoric volcanoes (hence all those hills) and Maori tribal traditions to the nation’s uncommon flora and fauna.

6. 1 p.m. | Central Lunch

The inner-city suburb of Ponsonby is a charming neighborhood whose main drag, the mile-long Ponsonby Road, is lined with cafes, bars and boutiques. Late last year, Ponsonby Central (136 Ponsonby Road;, a new complex packed with small restaurants and shops, added to the area’s appeal even more with, among other places, a bakery, an organic market, a butcher and pocket-size dining spots doing a decent impression of a United Nations food court — sushi, Neapolitan-style pizza, Argentine barbecue. Inside the main building, you’ll find a fortuneteller, the booth of Ponsonby’s radio station, and, for lunch, the pleasant cafe Toru ( Try the cafe’s pressed sandwich of Serrano ham, melting Manchego and truffle butter, which comes with a pile of scrumptious crinkle fries (13.50 New Zealand dollars).

7. 3 p.m. | Domestic Design

Explore the rest of Ponsonby Road by seeking out the talented domestic designers who have set up shop here, like Juliette Hogan (170 Ponsonby Road;, whose floral-print suits and ladylike separates are elegant with an edge. Nearby at Kate Sylvester’s namesake boutique (134 Ponsonby Road;, eggshell-blue walls offset colorful fashions: red leopard-print pants, sheer emerald blouses, embroidered ink dresses. Find design of a different kind at the new pop-up poster and art-print shop Endemicworld (62 Ponsonby Road;, with works from up-and-coming graphic designers, artists and illustrators like the street artist Cinzah Merkens and Australian design studio Inaluxe.

8. 7 p.m. | Made by Meredith

Modern New Zealand cuisine is what’s for dinner at Merediths (365 Dominion Road;, a formal tasting-menu-only restaurant run by the chef Michael Meredith. Finding inspiration in cutting-edge culinary techniques, seasonal local products and his Samoan background, Mr. Meredith turns out multicourse feasts matched with fine wines, many from small domestic producers. In the cozy establishment, frosted windows and simple black-and-white décor ensure that all attention is directed toward the parade of plates, which during a recent meal included an inventive venison tartare with horseradish and smoked eel, and savory macarons made by stuffing duck and chicken liver pâté between beetroot-flavored meringues. Six-course tasting menu with matching wines, 160 New Zealand dollars.

9. 11 p.m. | The Golden Hour

After dinner, head to the Golden Dawn (134 Ponsonby Road;, a superb bar and music venue in Ponsonby where the vibe is a mix of laid-back surfer style and rockabilly glam. There’s an indoor pub with exposed brick walls and dark corners for intimate conversations, but it’s in the outdoor courtyard where the party really happens. There, amid hanging strings of colored lights and long pastel-blue picnic tables, local D.J.’s and rock ’n’ roll bands provide the soundtrack for the New Zealand night. So grab a draft beer from the excellent local Hallertau microbrewery — the #2, a refreshing pale ale with flavors of citrus and honey, is delicious — and prepare to hop and shimmy along with the friendly crowd.


107 a.m. | Summit Sunrise

A sunrise hike up Mount Eden, a dormant volcano that rises nearly 650 feet above sea level, will be rewarded with a priceless panorama. The view spans the entire isthmus that greater Auckland occupies, from Manukau Harbour to the south across to Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf to the north. While savoring the solitude at the summit, peer into the vast, sloping crater at your feet or scan the landscape for landmarks like the Sky Tower and One Tree Hill, another substantial volcanic mound that is crowned with an obelisk.

11. 11 a.m. | On the K Road

Compared with Ponsonby, the thoroughfare known as K Road — or Karangahape Road — has a quirkier, less polished atmosphere. The street’s Queen Anne-style buildings and neo-Greek facades once made up a seedy red-light district, but today, upstanding businesses have moved in. At the Theater Coffee Company (256 Karangahape Road;, have a gooey herb-and-cheese-stuffed omelet and thick slices of toast (16.50 New Zealand dollars) for breakfast beneath the narrow building’s original vaulted ceiling. Afterward, visit Iko Iko (195 Karangahape Road;, a cute nearby shop where shelves are stuffed with treasures, trinkets and Kiwi-kitsch — windup kiwi birds, kiwi-bird-shaped cookie cutters. Then swing by the new high-end clothing boutique Maaike + Co (Shop 18, St Kevin’s Arcade, 179-183 Karangahape Road; in a handsome shopping arcade to find stylish designs from the store’s own label, Maaike, and other fashionable New Zealand brands like Nyne and Kowtow.

12. 1:30 p.m. | Vineyard Views

For a glimpse of New Zealand’s bountiful natural beauty, take a 40-minute ferry ride across the aquamarine waters of the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island. This quiet 35-square-mile island, with its rolling hills and gorgeous coastline, is so visually inspiring that a growing number of artists have made Waiheke home. See their work at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery (2 Korora Road; or the newer Toi Gallery (145 Ocean View Road; Then retire to the scenic estate of Cable Bay Vineyards (12 Nick Johnstone Drive; overlooking the gulf for a glass of Waiheke Island viognier. The winery is one of many on the island, but the view from the backyard terrace — of the glittering water stretching toward Auckland in the hazy distance — is hard to top.


The stylish Hotel DeBrett (2 High Street; is a 25-room boutique hotel. Each room is individually decorated, but all contain a cool mix of furnishings, artworks and brightly striped carpets made of New Zealand wool and designed by the owner Michelle Deery. Doubles from 300 New Zealand dollars.

The Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour (21 Viaduct Harbour Avenue; opened in June 2012 with 172 luxurious rooms with balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious marble bathrooms. There are also two restaurants, a Champagne bar and a recently opened spa. Doubles from around 230 dollars.

New York Times Travel


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