Another week in travel, another natural disaster to remind us all how tenuous the human condition really is. This week’s drama: a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador, which, as of press time, killed about 500 people and continues to cripple the country’s infrastructure. There are ways that travelers can help Ecuador, however. We’ll continue to monitor the situation down there, just as we monitor the wires for other news to share with you here every week. As always, if you have any questions or comments about what you read here, please tweet us at @AFARmedia.
Drone may have hit plane landing at Heathrow
An item that may have been a drone hit a plane landing at Heathrow International Airport earlier this week. Whatever the item was, it was small. The plane, a British Airways Airbus A320, was huge. And the strike didn’t even leave a dent. But the fact that it may have actually happened is a reminder of the dangers that drones pose to aviation—and that the technology has the capacity to wreak major havoc. Of course, airline officials have known all of this for years; most have been advocating vigorously for increased anti-drone regulations near airports and stiff penalties for those who violate the rules. Hopefully this drone strike will cause other officials to get on board with those efforts.
Carnival changes Cuba plans
In the same week that its new volunteerism-oriented cruise line took hundreds of bloggers and journalists to the Dominican Republic, Carnival Corporation announced that its Fathom ships will not sail to Cuba until Cuban-born Americans can join the trips. A little background: Since the 1980s, Cuban law has stipulated that Cuban-born Americans cannot arrive on the island on seagoing vessels or ferries, even though they are allowed to travel there by air. The law has, obviously, been in place for a long time, so Carnival (and a host of other cruise lines) had policies in place to ensure that Cuban-born Americans weren’t on their upcoming Cuban cruises. Now, however, according to an article on TravelPulse, Carnival has reversed its stance, and it is accepting bookings for Fathom cruises to Cuba (scheduled to start May 1) from all individuals. So what will happen if the Cuban government leaves the law in place past the new cruise’s departure date? The corporation say it’s sure that won’t happen, but there’s no way to know. Stay tuned.
Kayak to add restaurant and activity searches
You may well already book your flights, hotels, and cars through Kayak.com, and soon you’ll be using them for restaurants and sightseeing activities, too. This week company officials announced an expansion that could make the site a one-stop planning tool for your entire vacation. According to an article on Tnooz.com, Kayak’s new “things-to-do channel” will launch in just a few weeks, with trips and tour info coming from partners like Viator and GetYourGuide. The restaurant channel should follow sometime later this year, likely with data culled from sister company OpenTable. (Both Kayak and OpenTable are part of the Priceline Group.) Says CTO Giorgos Zacharia: “The ability to search for restaurants and activities on Kayak gives our users a more comprehensive experience and the ability to tackle more aspects of their trip planning and management in one place.” The new channels will be introduced regionally first, so only certain customers will be able to use them for the time being.
New attractions at home and abroad
Two new attractions made headlines this week. Here on domestic soil, the Nickelodeon Universe inside the Mall of America (in Bloomington, Minnesota) welcomed a new and exciting flight simulation ride called Flyover America. According to Beth Blair, author of a book about the mall (and, full disclosure, a friend of mine), the ride is similar to Disney’s Soarin’ Over California in that it creates the sensation of flying—hang gliding, really—over different parts of the country. Riders pass through images of iconic parts of the Southwest and the Pacific Coast as well as Crater Lake, New York City, and more. The price: $16.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids.
Across the pond, London’s newest “attraction” will be a bit more, well, titillating. Literally. A report in Time Out London announced that a new restaurant, The Bunyadi, will be clothing optional and designed to encourage diners to gnosh in the buff. Apparently the pop-up restaurant will have separate sections for clothed and naked diners, and staff members will be “naked with only some covering.” Apparently the restaurant isn’t as much about nudism as it is about a dining experience “free from the trappings of modern life.” Sorry, folks, that means no selfies.
Delta launches initiative aimed at passengers on autism spectrum
April is Autism Awareness Month, and parents with children on the autism spectrum rejoiced last week when Delta opened Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s first multisensory room. The project, a partnership with autism advocacy group The Arc, provides a calming, supportive environment and includes a mini ball pit, a bubbling water sculpture, a tactile activity panel, and other items children can interact with to help calm them and prepare them for travel. The room is located in a quiet space on the F Concourse, one of the busiest airport terminals in the country. In related news, The Arc also sponsors “familiarization tours” during which pilots and flight attendants lead autistic children and their parents aboard parked planes to help alleviate any fears and uncertainties about the boarding process. For more information about this program, click here.
Jetblue springs for nap pods at JFK
No, that’s not an enormous Pac-Man eating bleary-eyed travelers in John F. Kennedy International Airport; it’s just someone trying out one of four free napping pods. The “Energy Pods,” from a company named MetroNaps (seriously, we can’t make this stuff up), debuted at Terminal 5 this week, and according to USA Today will offer travelers complimentary 20-minute “JetNaps” on a first-come, first-served basis. MetroNaps spokespeople say the pods offer “an ergonomically perfect, gravity-neutral position that optimizes circulation and encourages a reinvigorating, restful siesta.” In other words, they enable you to sleep sitting up. The pods have visors for privacy, and each one pipes in soothing rhythms or white noise. They also have storage bins to stash valuable items while you snooze. If you’re a heavy sleeper, don’t worry—pods are programmed to wake you up with lights, vibrations, and sounds after 20 minutes. Just try not to drool on the leather, OK?
New map center at Stanford
It’s not uncommon for travel lovers to be map geeks, which is why we have to bring your attention to the new David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University. The place boasts more than 150,000 maps, and curators have used technological tools to make some of the most complicated maps come to life by scanning maps and stitching related maps together, making it possible for visitors to zoom in to see their incredible level of detail. Accord to a story on KQED, the center’s name comes from the real estate developer and private collector who donated most of the museum’s rarest specimens. The center opens to the public next week, and a number of the maps—about 67,000 in all—will be made available online shortly after that.
When Cambodia’s national railroad was abandoned in the 1970s, locals devised their own wooden cars (called “norries”) to run on the old tracks—a system that collectively became known as the Bamboo Train. In a riveting feature for BBC Travel, Erin Craig details what has happened to this ingenious invention, and what the impending demise of the Bamboo Train says about the evolution of tourism in Cambodia overall. The story is jam-packed with anecdotes and history, and the photos are spectacular, too.
You don’t need to be a fan of Georges Simenon’s 75 private-eye novels to appreciate Tom Downey’s recent article in The Guardian about the parts of Paris that Simenon’s Inspector Maigret character frequented. Downey’s piece does a stellar job of mixing the historic with the new, juxtaposing thoughts about Maigret’s favorite neighborhoods and landmarks with views of those same places today. The result: a story that pays as much homage to Simenon as it does to Paris—a fitting tribute to two icons.
“The middle seat has become the third rail of flying—and it’s getting harder to avoid.” So writes Martha White in a travel piece for a recent business section of The New York Times. Her story takes a closer look at the ways in which airlines are trying to monetize people’s dread of the middle seat and spotlights the lengths to which passengers will go to avoid sitting there. White’s anecdotes are fresh and funny; the issue she covers is one that’s not going away any time soon.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications includingTIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association, and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.