This year, KLM will be the first airline to launch the “meet and seat” program. Passengers can use social media to pick seatmates. This is accomplished by linking fliers via Facebook and Linkedin profiles to check-in information. Malaysia Airlines has already announced that they will follow suit by letting their passengers see who they know on the same flight or visiting the same destination at the same time. I think it may be time to take down my Facebook page!
This month, Boeing’s much anticipated 787 Dreamliner went into service. Its innovative design includes using carbon flier construction rather than traditional aluminum and steel. But what will passengers care about, you wonder? Bigger windows (no shades but a button that controls the amount of light let in the window) and storage bins (30% bigger), double armrests (finally!), improved cabin pressure (this will help with jet lag, headaches, fatigue, and other common ailments), gadget friendliness (USB ports and electric outlets on every seat), vaulted ceilings in some areas of the plane, and a much quieter cabin. The airplane will be used on flights that last for ten or more hours.
American Airlines is upgrading their premium class service on selected international flights. Passengers in business-class will get tucked in (yes, turn down service is included) with duvets, deluxe pillows, slippers, and pajamas!
FYI: Airfares are expected to increase slightly this year (but the main moneymaker will be add-on fees), assuming the economy continues to improve. A surcharge will be added on all flights from the U.S. to Europe to cover emission costs.
A new way to reduce baggage fees…Space Bag to Go is a vacuum storage bag with a zippered seal. The bag rolls up, forcing air out and creating a compact luggage bag. This will make packing more efficient, which is always a good thing.
Video streaming will soon be available. Row 44, an in-flight Internet provider, will offer video streaming for all Southwest Airlines flights. American Airlines introduced it on a few of their flights in late 2011 and looks to expand this capability in 2012. Virgin America recently announced that it expects to be able to offer its customers the ability to download video and audio files via Wi-Fi to their smart devices by late 2012. No, this will NOT be included in the price of your ticket.
Visitors to the Holyland are now able to use MP3 players to take self-guided tours of Jerusalem. How odd to see folks strolling around such an ancient place with a modern day device! http://www.jerusalem-oldcity.org.il;free
The Statue of Liberty now has webcams that offers breath-taking views, including a 180-degree panorama of the harbor and Ellis and Governors Islands. Viewers will feel like they’re on the balcony of Lady Liberty.
TripAdvisor now has free Mobile City Guides available as apps on Android-based devices for nearly two dozen of the most popular tourist cities in the world. The guides include information on tours, attractions, hotels, restaurants, history, weather, transportation, and more.
What’s Happening at Disney…
DisneyWorld has mande several changes, the most significant is doubling the size of FantasyLand. It will open in phases starting in the latter part of 2012.
DisneyLand has also made some improvement, including opening a new 12-acre area this year, Cars Land.
The first five-star hotel that is not a Disney brand will open at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 2014. Ground was just broken on the Four Seasons Disney. Not only is it not for the budget traveler, it will be an ultra-luxury hotel. Patrons can expect to pay several hundred dollars for a room per night.
FYI: Look for an average of five percent increase in hotel rates in the U.S. as occupancy is expected to be much higher, at least in certain markets, such as Charlotte, NC; Philadelphia, PA; Seattle, WA; Detroit, MI; and Houston, TX. Now is the time to join a loyalty rewards program, if you don’t already participate in a program.
Big news! The legendary Steamer American Queen returns to service in April 2012. Several different U.S. river cruises are offered. Passengers will enjoy luxurious staterooms, meals prepared by famed American Chef Regina Charboneau, and showboat style entertainment. www.greatamericansteamboatcompany.com
Disney is launching a new cruise ship, Disney Fantasy. The 4,000-passenger ship will have an adult-only entertainment only, Broadway style shows, costume salon, interactive dining areas, and much more. It will stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
FYI: Wave season is here. This is when the cruise industry rolls out some of its best prices and incentives for the year. Be ready to book by the end of March to get the best deal.
At the top and bottom of the world…
NASA is preparing for moon tourism. It won’t happen this year but the government agency knows it is on the horizon so they are in the process of determing what places will be protected from tourism.
Deep sea tourism is also on the horizon. Several prominent explorers and scientists, such as Sir Richard Branson, James Cameron, Sylvia Earle, and Graham Hawkes, are working diligently to be the first to go to the deepest point below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
In the Carolinas:
Charleston Wine and Food Festival will be held March 4 – 12 in Charleston, SC. Some of the best chefs in America can be found in the Lowcountry, so this is a great opportunity to sample their cuisine. www.charlestonwineandfood.com
Or check out the Wilminton Wine and Chocolate Festival (February 3-5) at the Coast Line Event Center in the historic district of Wilmington, NC. www.wilmingtonwineandchocolatefestival.com
IronMan 3 will be filmed in Wilmington, NC starting this summer and throughout 2012. The movie will come out in 2013.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher will unveil a new outdoor “Adventure Reef” in late spring that features a climbable reef with a moray eel slide, giant octopus, and more. In late 2012, a new whale and dolphin exhibit will be added. www.ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher
The 65th Annual Azalea Festival will take place April 11-15. It is one of the biggest annual events along the North Carolina coast. www.ncazaleafestival.org
FYI: In April 2011, a contract was awarded to a Colorado company to design a new cruise ship terminal for Charleston, SC. This will make Charleston much more competitive with Norfolk and Fort Lauderdale.
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