CARIBBEAN AIRLINES LAUNCHES NONSTOP SERVICE FROM JFK

In anticipation of a strong rebound in travel demand from the United States this winter, tourism officials have announced that Caribbean Airlines will begin twice weekly non-stop service from JFK to Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesdays and Fridays. 

The Caribbean Airlines service will begin on December 14 and is expected to boost last minute holiday bookings and assist returning nationals looking for last minute deals. Service will originate from Port of Spain to V.C. Bird International Airport and return service from New York’s JFK.

A fare sale launched today by Caribbean Airlines will offer a special one way rate of 189USD from JFK to Antigua and 209USD one way from Antigua to JFK in addition to taxes and service fees. Caribbean Airlines will offer competitive rates including a 10% discount for seniors and children and a baggage allowance of 2 pieces not exceeding 50 pounds each.  The airline will also feature some creative pricing options on their return one- way fares.

Tourism Minister John Maginley welcomes the prospect of additional air service to Antigua and Barbuda at a time when all signs point to an increase in travel from the United States. “I am particularly pleased with the timing of this service, since it will facilitate smooth connections from almost all North American gateways as well as European markets such as France, Italy and Germany.  This aligns with our strategic vision of providing greater access from some of our key markets.”

Flight 428 will depart Antigua at 8:45 a.m. and arrive at JFK at 11:50 a.m. The return Flight 429 will leave JFK at 1:55p.m. and arrive at V.C. Bird International at 6:55pm. 

Airline officials report a steady increase in bookings since the launch of this fare sale today. Customers can book online at http://www.caribbean-airlines.com, call the airline toll free at + 800 744 2225 or contact their travel agent to make their bookings.

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Hapag-Lloyd’s MV Europa

The Cruise Ship That Let’s You Visit Germany, While Seeing America

Hapag-Lloyd’s MV Europa, the 408 passenger, all-suite flagship of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, celebrated its fifth birthday in 2004. Europa is primarily a German ship, whose reputation has spread among sophisticated travelers in many countries. As a result, Hapag-Lloyd has announced that it has begun extending its bilingual sailings on Europa in 2004, and more in 2005, to accommodate the growing interest from the U.S. market.

The Europa attracts people who don’t want the most of everything; they want the best of everything. Passengers on penthouse decks are served by personal butlers 24/7. Europa’s penthouse deck has ten deluxe suites, which each measure 53 square yards, and two 101 square yard penthouse grand suites, each with its own sauna, whirlpool, guest lavatory, and a dining table for six. The other 192 outer suites measure at least 32 square yards; most have their own balconies. Prices start at 5,500 to over 8,500 Euros (our suite cost 6,900 Euros, about $10,000 per person) for an 11-day cruise from Philadelphia to Nassau. (Airfare to and from one’s home city is not included.)

Our onsite experience was entered with great expectations and some unplanned frustrations. With no offices in the US and only a handful of travel agents booking the trip, information was hard to come by. The home website was in German. While the three travel agents we called assured us that wines were included with meals, and that a list of more expensive wines were offered at a supplement, the bad news was they were wrong. All alcoholic beverages bare a supplemental charge (unless you occupy one of the deluxe suites). The good news is that there is a well-selected wine list, starting at just 16 Euros (around $20) for a very drinkable Riesling and 3.10 Euros (a bit over $4) for good beer. We were also told that, except for the top 12 suites, our mini-bar would include only soft drinks. Wrong! Good German beer was included and replaced daily.

We were given a free e-mail account, to which we forwarded our email with some bizarre results. There was a superb library. Currently, all books are in German (we were advised that both problems will be corrected after the first of the year). And be forewarned: “Formal Night” on the Europa is taken seriously, so bring a tux and formal gown.

An elegant cocktail party with free-flowing Champagne and hors d’oeuvres in the delightful piano bar welcomed us as we checked in and were escorted to our suite, which was warm, welcoming and luxurious. The artwork was unbelievably breathtaking and the service, by a crew of always willing, ever smiling young Germans (and some Asians in the Oriental dining room) offered an object lesson on what the service industry is all about.

Room service was a delight and was available 24 hours a day. The breakfast omelets arrived freshly cooked and presented as a lovely coil around sculptured garnishes. All rooms offer turndown service, with traditional European-style covers placed on either side of the bed. The beds were wonderfully comfortable, with goose-down pillows and fluffy duvets.

Our cruise, from October 12 through the 22, 2004, sailed down the East Coast of the U.S. from Philadelphia to Nassau. While visiting some of America’s most appealing cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Port Canaveral, Miami, Key West, one of the Bahamian “Out Islands” and terminating in Nassau, where passengers disembarked. As part of our “Theme Cruise,” guests had the opportunity to learn about some of the important contributions made by dolphins. Kirsten Kuhnert, the founder of Dolphin Aid was aboard this cruise, accompanied by the prominent ambassadors of her aid organization, Prince Leopold of Bavaria. The mostly mature, very upmarket clientele were charming and many were fluent in English. The young staff had a good grasp of English. It was like being in a floating foreign country.

The food certainly enhanced the out-of-America experience. “The Europa Restaurant,” which has one-seating dining, served “Continental” cuisine. The “Oriental” and “Venezia”, the two specialty restaurants, offered Asian and Italian cuisine respectively in an elegant and intimate environment. All the restaurants (as well as the superb room service) were overseen by the ubiquitous and charming Kurt Hummel and bared no surcharge.

They say that every person encounters just one great love in life and one city that is life’s home. In the cruise ship game, I can, with confidence say that I have always found one restaurant on board in which I felt totally at home and to which I invariably returned. In the case of the MV Europa, my love affair began and ended with “The Oriental,” in our opinion, the finest specialty restaurant on any luxury cruise ship. The décor with its muted colors, soft forest-green banquettes, large windows, lovely art work and Asian artifacts is at once soothing and captivating. Service by an Asian staff, orchestrated by a terrific German maitress d’hotel, was admirable. The food, basically Indo-Chinese, offered “Adventure Dinners,” such as a Curry Night or Indonesian Festival. Lunch was more informal, offering such majestic plates as sweet and spicy cucumber salad with sesame and Thai lemongrass dressing; incredible “bami” noodles with vegetables and red chili and garlic and chili-marinated prawns in coriander-soy sauce with jasmine rice.

“The Venezia,” the Italian restaurant was equally marvelous. The décor consists of a full wall mural of Venice, spacious tables with crisp white cloths, and lush Italian feel. The service staff was garbed in wonderfully ornate black and red uniforms and the whole is orchestrated beautifully by Maitre d’hotel, Sr. Fiorenzo Morelli. The menu offered a rich selection of appetizers, pasta, entrees, cheese and dessert, like all restaurants on the Europa, one can make any reasonable request and it will be honored. In our case, translucent slices of Italian proscuitto with balls of assorted melon were the quintessential starter. Two exquisite pastas followed this: Spaghetti with a rich Bolognaise sauce and linguini with blanched garlic, hot pepporicini and freshly poured olive oil. A rich and heady Antinori, 2001 was a fine companion and good value at 27 Euros (a bit over $30). Assorted cheese and a lovely orange millefeuille were ideal conclusions.

The Lido Café afforded a more casual ambiance and terrific buffets, as well as an early or late breakfast alternative. The food was simple, but also fresh, carefully prepared and delicious. A typical lunch might consist of a variety of cold appetizers, such as fresh tuna with chive cream sauce, followed by an array of hot and cold entrees: Marvelous soups, salads and hot options followed.

Amazingly, there are no paper or plastic glasses or cups, on the Europa. Even the hot bullion or cold fruit soups were served in china cups, as waiters strolled by on the pool deck, serving fresh fruit, sorbets and cold scented towels to revitalize you.

After dinner, passengers stroll on the Europa Deck, visit The Havana Bar, where cigar smokers stoke up, check out the piano bar, or drop in to the Clipper Lounge for cocktails or a snack. They can also browse Europa’s boutique for clothing, accessories, and necessities. Wempe, the prestigious German jeweler, maintains a presence where high-end jewelry is offered at duty-free prices. Entertainment, ranging from renowned classical musicians to well known popular acts, is provided.

The Lido deck is a great place to relax – with its club, bars, library and auditorium. The Sport deck offered relaxation at the Spa Futuresse Center with sauna, steam bath, massage parlor, Japanese bath, and solarium. A wide range of sports activities are available each day: jogging, table tennis, and classic shuffleboard are a few. A personal trainer is available for individual training sessions and fitness counseling. PGA experts help golfers improve their game at the extensive golf-training unit and facilities, which includes golf simulator, video analysis, two tee-offs, and a putting green.

The swimming pool is one of the longest on any cruise ship. With its magrodome, it is used as an indoor and outdoor pool. Passengers who come to relax in the sun have their chairs set up, and then are intermittently sprayed with Evian water to stay cool.

Frequent lectures and films were presented in the auditorium. The sophisticated Club Belvedere is almost entirely glassed-in, providing a fantastic view of the sea. Families with children are welcome on the Europa, with staff available to entertain the children and special children’s’ programs during vacation periods. Europa also has a fully equipped hospital on board. Two suites specially designed for disabled persons are available.

If you are looking for a truly European experience, but can’t deal with the hassle of airports; if you want to see the world, without sacrificing your creature comforts; or if you just want a taste of a kinder, more gentle way of life, The Europa offers one of the world’s most dignified cruise ship experience.

Cruise Ship Rating: A Major on The Walman Report.

Special To: cruise-news.net

HOW TO PURCHASE YOUR HAPAG-LLOYD CRUISE IN THE U.S.

· Julia Ann Liantonio or Regina Higgins, Euro Lloyd Travel Group, 1640 Hempstead Turnpike, East Meadow, NY 11554; Tel: 516-228-4970, 800-334-0284; Fax: 516-228-8258; Website: http://www.eurolloyd.com/; E-mail: elthdq@megapathdsl.net.

· Annemarie Victory, Annemarie Victory Organization, Inc., 136 East 64th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021; Tel.: (212) 486-0353 / Fax: (212) 751-3149

· Chris Conlin, Conlin Travel / Great Lakes Cruise Company, 3300 Washtenaw Avenue, Suite 230, Ann Arbor, MI 48104; Tel.: (734) 477-6052 / Fax: (734) 477-3128

· Mary Dailey, Dailey-Thorp Travel, P.O. Box 670, Big Horn, WY 82833; Tel.: (307) 673-1555 / FAX: (307) 674-7474

· Chuck Cross, Expeditions, Inc., 20525 SE Dorchester Rd., Bend, OR 97702; Tel.: (541) 330-2454

· Greg Nacco, Golden Bear Travel, Inc., 16 Digital Drive, Novato, CA 94948-6115; Tel.: (415) 382-8900