Friday, March 25, 2011

U.S. State Department Upgrades Travel Warning for Japan

March 21, 2011
The U.S. State Department updated its Travel Warning for Japan dated March 18 in response to new information about the malfunction at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and are now warning Americans within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the plant to evacuate the area or to take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy, and other technical experts in the U.S. government have reviewed the scientific and technical information they have collected from assets in country, as well as what the government of Japan has disseminated.
On March 21, 2011, consistent with NRC guidelines that apply to such a situation in the U.S., the U.S. government is making available potassium iodide (KI) as a precautionary measure for United States government personnel and dependents residing within Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), and the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata and Yamanashi. The KI should only be consumed after specific instruction from the U.S. government. While there is no indication that it will become advisable to take KI, out of an abundance of caution the U.S. government is making it available to its personnel and family members to be used only upon direction if a change in circumstances were to warrant. No one should take KI at this time. In the event of a radiological release, sheltering in place or departing the affected area remain the primary means of protection.
On March 17, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure from Japan of eligible family members of U.S. government personnel in Tokyo (Tokyo Capital Region), Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture), and the prefectures of Akita, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizouka, Tochigi, Yamagata and Yamanashi. Separately, because of infrastructure damage from the earthquake and resulting tsunami, voluntary authorized departure is authorized for the eligible family members at Misawa AB (Aomori Prefecture). Commercial flights have resumed at all airports that were closed by the earthquake, except Sendai Airport, and commercial seats are available at the time of this posting. In Tokyo, most public transportation including trains and subways are operating. Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan, particularly in the Miyagi prefecture where government checkpoints have been established on damaged roadways. In Iwate Prefecture, toll road highways are restricted to emergency vehicles only.
The Department of State is working to assist U.S. citizens to depart from affected areas. U.S. citizens in Tokyo should review the State Department’s Japan Earthquake/Pacific Tsunami webpage for updated departure-related information. Hardships caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continue to cause severe difficulties for people in the areas affected by the disaster. Temporary shortages of water and food supplies may occur in affected areas of Japan due to power and transportation disruptions. Rolling power outages continue in the Tokyo metropolitan area and areas in northeast Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The Tokyo Electric Power Company reports that three-hour outages may occur in various regions, including Tokyo. Please monitor the Tokyo Electric Power Company website, and local news media for specific information and schedules for the planned outages. Radio stations in the Tokyo area that have emergency information in English include the U.S. Armed Forces station at 810 AM and InterFM (76.1 FM).
Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a massive earthquake such as this one. The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of aftershocks, persons should move to open spaces away from walls, windows, buildings and other structures that may collapse, and should be alert to the danger of falling debris. If you are indoors, drop, cover and hold on. If possible, seek cover under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you. Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines. Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles or any open flame due to the possibility of disrupted gas lines.
Due to the continuing possibility of strong aftershocks, Japan remains at risk for further tsunamis. Japanese authorities have issued a warning for people to stay away from low-lying coastal areas. If a tsunami alert is issued by Japanese authorities, evacuate immediately to higher ground. Further information about what you can do if a tsunami occurs can be found at the National Weather Service’s Tsunami Ready website, and the International Tsunami Information Center’s website. Current tsunami alerts can be found at the Japan Meteorological Agency website, and the website of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
The U.S. Embassy continues to deploy consular assistance teams where needed; these teams are actively working with the State Department taskforce and local authorities to locate U.S. citizens, visit shelters and assistance centers, and help U.S. citizens identify public and commercial transportation options away from affected areas. U.S. citizens requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Department of State via email or through the emergency contact numbers listed below. U.S. citizens in Japan should contact family and friends in the United States to confirm their well-being at the earliest opportunity. Where Internet and telephone services are not available, it may be possible to contact people using SMS (cell text message) or other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.  For more information, visit

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crystal Cruises Expands Jewish Cultural Explorations

With increased participation in Jewish heritage tours, Crystal Cruises has expanded its related programming in 2011. Scheduled are more than a dozen Crystal Adventures that explore Jewish life, past and present, around the world, including in and near Mumbai, Miami, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Rome, Dublin, Jerusalem/Ashdod, and Odessa.

Examples of excursions include St. Petersburg, where the Russian Jewish community survived Communist oppression, war and hardship, as demonstrated through its people, community centers, music, and an intimate home visit; Mumbai, with visits to three synagogues, ranging from Baghdadi to Bene-Israel congregations; Copenhagen, with a visit the Museum of Danish Resistance, which shows how 99 percent of Denmark’s Jews survived the Holocaust; Dublin, which includes a look at the social, legal and political contributions of the Irish-Jewish community with a visit to the first dedicated day school and home of Israeli ex-President Chaim Herzog; German concentration camps, including Neungamme, which housed 100,000 prisoners outside Hamburg, and Berlin’s Sachsenhausen, which became the blueprint for all other camps; and Rome, including the 2,000-plus-year-old Jewish Quarter. While most 2012 excursions are still in development, Crystal is planning a Jewish heritage tour of Shanghai for its 2012 World Cruise.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Airline Fees Total $9.2 Billion, Half Were Hidden, Says Consumer Group

Consumers paid more than $9.2 billion in fees to U.S. airlines in 2010 for checked baggage and other services, but these fees were hidden from most travelers when they purchased their airline tickets, because the airlines refuse to share their fee information with travel agents and other distributors, according to a new study by the Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA), a non-profit organization promoting consumer interests on travel policy issues.
Information on extra (or ancillary) fees, which are not visible to the more than half of consumers who use third parties to book their travel, was the focus of an analysis of major U.S. airlines’ year-end financial reports by CTA, in coordination with Open Allies for Airfare Transparency, a coalition representing hundreds of companies in the managed travel community.
On average, passengers paid a total of $36.80 in fees for every round trip ticket—nearly $150 for a family of four, the study found.
Last fall, more than 60,000 travelers signed a petition sponsored by CTA and the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) that called on the federal government to put an end to hidden fees, and thousands of them shared their hidden fee stories. Marc in New Jersey wrote: “This is a non-transparent and dishonest way of making it appear as if the cost of the flight is lower than it ACTUALLY is.” Pat in Arizona wrote: “In all fairness to air travelers, all fees should be disclosed so consumers can make the best choices among airlines to travel.”
This study, the first to look at how the hidden fees imposed by major U.S. airlines have impacted the cost of air travel in 2010, was based on fourth-quarter 2010 earnings releases from the nation’s eight largest airlines as well as data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

For more information, visit

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cruise lines reluctant to bring back fuel surcharges

USA TODAY - written by Johanna Jainchill,.

With oil prices soaring this week due to unrest in the Middle East, North American cruise passengers can't help but wonder if fuel surcharges are soon to come. Cruise lines have made no indication that they are considering it, and have so far resisted implementing the fees despite oil's steady price climb over the last year.

However, light sweet crude oil, which most cruise lines use, is hovering at the $100 per barrel range, according to the New York Mercantile Exchange Index. When the cruise lines eliminated their fuel supplements, they established fuel price thresholds at which they reserved the right to reinstate the surcharges. For Norwegian Cruise Line and the brands of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., it was $65 per barrel. For the Carnival Corp. lines, it was $70.

Current prices are still low compared to 2008, when cruise lines were among many companies that collected supplements as crude oil reached record prices of $145 per barrel.

But those fees were controversial and negatively perceived from the start. The Florida Attorney General's Office opened an investigation into possible cruise line collusion and whether it was legal to assess the charges retroactively, and both Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. eventually refunded millions of dollars for the retroactive charges.

Wall Street analysts this week are saying that cruise lines are hesitant to reinstate the fees for various reasons - especially while oil prices are still so volatile.

"We believe cruise line managements have been hesitant to reinstate a surcharge in an environment where prices were not rising rapidly," said Robin Farley, UBS leisure analyst, in a note to investors. "If recent spikes in oil prices continue at the same velocity a fuel surcharge is possible, but we continue to believe the companies would all prefer not to implement any sort of fuel surcharge."

"We believe the industry will be patient before implementing fuel surcharges given the very volatile nature of oil and fuel pricing over the last several weeks," he wrote. "While demand and pricing fundamentals remain very solid, the industry is well aware that consumers to a large degree view ticket pricing and fuel charges as fungible focusing on the total cost of a cruise vacation in our view."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of Seas Is First Ship to Visit Falmouth

After months of delays, Royal Caribbean International’s Voyager of the Seas on Feb. 17 became the first ship to call at the Historic Falmouth port. Located between the cruise ports of Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, Historic Falmouth is a thematic cruise port and gateway to more than 60 land experiences along the north coast of Jamaica.
“We are delighted to see Voyager of the Seas make the first-ever ship call at Historic Falmouth,” said Craig Milan, senior vice president of land operations for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “By partnering with the Port Authority of Jamaica, we are working to deliver our shared vision of Falmouth’s rebirth. Together, we are bringing the town’s historic sites to life and integrating the culture and authenticity of this destination into a superior guest experience.”
The grand opening celebrations will take place on March 22 when Oasis of the Seas makes its maiden call. Other Royal Caribbean ships that will call at Falmouth include Freedom of the Seas on Feb. 23, Navigator of the Seas on Feb. 24, and Allure of the Seas on March 30. Shore excursions from Falmouth include a visit to Good Hope Great House, an 18th century plantation, for a horse-and-carriage ride, river-tubing and ATV exploring; climbing Dunn’s River Falls; sampling rums at Appleton Estate; and river rafting on a 30-foot bamboo raft.
“Falmouth has an important place in the cultural history of Jamaica. It is especially rewarding for us to use that history as an entrĂ©e for a new generation of guests,” said Mike Henry, Jamaica’s minister of transport and works, who has responsibility for cruise shipping. “Our sights have always been set on being the pre-eminent cruise destination, and with the best-in-class berthing facilities at the Historic Falmouth port, we’ll now easily welcome the world’s largest ships.”
The revitalization of Historic Falmouth is a multi-phased development project with the first phase near completion; it offers a two-berth pier, retail and restaurant services, and a transportation center. Subsequent phases will include onsite attractions and experiences, hotel and residential developments, and additional retail and restaurant options. The town also has many prominent houses, shops and public buildings built in the 18th and 19th centuries that are still standing, but are in need of refurbishment. The restoration and preservation of several historic buildings in Falmouth is currently underway.
Falmouth was founded in 1790 from land owned by Edward Barrett. His granddaughter was poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. At that time Jamaica was the world’s leading sugar producer, and this was most evident in Falmouth with more than 80 sugar estates nearby. The town was mapped out in the Colonial tradition, with streets named after British royalty and heroes—King Street, Queen Street, Rodney Street (after 18th century naval leader Admiral Lord George Rodney) and Wellington Street (after Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington).
The density of historic Georgian architectural buildings, which residents have lived in and maintained, is reflective of the town’s heritage. Its public amenities included the first piped water supply system in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1799. The town prospered throughout the first half of the 19th century and was the birthplace of the abolition slavery movement. Falmouth was the site of many revolts, and many of the buildings in the town served as safe houses for those who had escaped. In fact, a prominent Falmouth reverend, William Knibb, whose house still stands in the town, was granted Jamaica’s highest civil honor, the Order of Merit, in 1988, 150 years after the abolition of slavery.