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New Hotels and No More Noma: The View from AFAR

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Plus: the terrible toll of natural disasters

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What’s in a name? Apparently quite a bit. When we debuted this weekly travel roundup last week, we did so with the header, “This Week in Travel.” But we quickly heard from the (pretty entertaining) travel podcast with the same title. So we’ve changed our name to “The View from AFAR.” The quality remains: we hope you enjoy this week’s roundup of the latest and greatest consumer travel news. 


The west coast of South America was rocked Wednesday by an 8.3-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Chile. The temblor was felt in downtown Santiago, and a number of small coastal towns experienced extensive destruction. Overall damage was still being assessed as of this writing; miraculously, only a handful of people were presumed dead. Earlier in the week, the Valley Fire in Northern California scorched more than 70,000 acres in Lake and Sonoma counties, ranking as one of the most destructive in state history. The fire burned thousands of private homes and one beloved resort: Harbin Hot Springs. Harbin was considered an incredibly spiritual place, and it was a particular favorite of some AFAR staffers (we’re based in the Bay Area). We send condolences to resort owners (and the rest of the people impacted by the fire), and wish them physical and emotional fortitude as they begin to rebuild. 


The airwaves were abuzz with news of a number of new hotels this week. In Hawaii, the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina announced it is confirming reservations beginning June 1, 2016—huge news for a resort area that has been eagerly anticipating the hotel’s completion for the last two years. The resort will open with 358 rooms and suites, five restaurants, four pools, a spa, and tennis courts. Introductory deals have rates starting at $447/night. Yosemite National Park will welcome new accommodations, too: The 143-room Rush Creek Lodge is now accepting reservations beginning June 15, 2016. The rustic spot is a sister property to Evergreen Lodge, which also sits near the park’s Highway 120 West entrance. Finally, in Japan, The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo pulled back the curtains this week on an upgrade that refreshed all 245 guest rooms, the Club Lounge, and two on-site restaurants. To celebrate the milestone, the Roppongi District hotel is offering a package that includes overnight accommodations with access to the Club Lounge, a spa treatment, and a meal at one of the on-site restaurants. Rates for the package start at $2,417/night. 


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Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that many consider to be the world’s best, announced this week that it will close after service on New Year’s Eve 2016, and reopen with a new menu sometime the following year. The move came as a shock to the food world, as chef Rene Redzepi's influence has spread far—he is the father of the New Nordic food movement that accentuates age-old techniques such as drying, smoking, pickling, curing, and smoking (to name a few). As of now, Redzepi’s plan is to reorient Noma around an urban farm, which he hopes to develop from an old asphalt lot. Keep those taste buds peeled for updates as the project evolves.  


Cruise options to the Galapagos Islands are about to get even swankier in 2016, when small-ship operator Ecoventura starts sailing its fourth ship, the uber-luxurious MV Origin. The new 20-passenger ship, which was announced earlier this month and departs San Cristobal (in the Galapagos) for its maiden voyage on Jan. 3, will have 10 staterooms, and will boast features such as a concierge, a fitness center, and a library. Because wildlife is the main attraction in the Galapagos, the Origin’s routes will enable passengers to see marine iguanas, Darwin finches, and giant land tortoises. Rates for double occupancy start at $6,500.


American Airlines unveiled its new integrated operations center this week, an $88-million global nerve center that operates 24 hours a day to control more than 1 million flights (including US Airways flights) annually. The facility, in Fort Worth, Texas, was built to withstand the force of a tornado with 185 mph winds, and each desk is on its own circuit so terminals won’t lose power. There also are more than three dozen 80-inch large screen television displays. Hopefully all of this state-of-the-art technology will help American ensure that only certified planes hit the skies—especially after the airline sent an uncertified Airbus A321S between Los Angeles and Honolulu earlier in the week. (Thankfully, the plane landed without incident.)  


How Swede it was (see what we did there?) earlier this summer when SAS Airlines announced a new route between Stockholm and Los Angeles that will begin March 14, 2016. According to Visit Sweden, the flights will mark the first time in 20 years that SAS will operate nonstop flights to and from L.A.; previously travelers had to change planes in London or Frankfurt. Other new routes include Oslo and Copenhagen to Miami. SAS also is increasing the number of departures between Stockholm and New York, as well as Chicago between Copenhagen and Shanghai. All told, this means 330,000 new SAS seats on intercontinental routes next year. 


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Technically speaking, Guatemala City has 25 zones, or districts. But Zone 20 is a bit like the thirteenth floor in many high-rises: It doesn’t exist. In a detailed piece from the Los Angeles Times this week, author Marisa Gerber tries to figure out why. The story is notable for its description; there are times when readers feel as if they’re right there on the streets. The piece is part of the LAT’s “Great Reads” series. That moniker is apt. 

Sure, the story has been out there a while (since August), but we *love* the piece in the August issue of Mother Jones about one- and two-star Yelp reviews of national parks. Not only is the concept of the story brilliant—it commemorates the park service’s 99th birthday—but the execution is hilarious. The lesson: What happens on Yelp doesn’t stay on Yelp. 

Finally, sometimes good reading extends beyond an original piece and into the discussion that ensues. Such was the case with Freda Moon’s “36 Hours” look at Portland, Ore., that appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The New York Times. Moon’s reporting and writing were airtight, but after the story published, she Tweeted some comments that a number of Portland locals took the wrong way. What followed was an ugly episode of public shaming—a whole bunch of people ganging up on Moon for speaking her mind. The Twitter transcripts—some of which are catalogued here—are good examples of behavior to avoid on social media. 


You’re traveling solo. You’re in a new city. You want to work out. But you have no idea where to go. And you sort of want a buddy. This is where Gociety can help. The company connects outdoorsy people for activities such as trail-running, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and yoga. They launched an app this week, which makes the service even easier for people who are visiting from out of town. Unlike other online outdoor communities (and services such as Meetup), Gociety members create "plans" though which other members can connected and take part. Next time you're away from home and you want to get a run in, check it out.

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 including TIME, 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.

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