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Travel News

By Judy Newell

Mexico Travel News

New wellness hotel in Playa del Carmen

Soho Playa, the first of a planned mini-chain from a Canadian real estate company, offers a wellness-chic image in the pedestrian-friendly heart of Playa del Carmen, de facto capital of the Riviera Maya. Opened last month, the newly constructed boutique features 23 rooms, most with hammock-furnished balconies.

Though located in a beach town known for its tequila-fueled parties, the hotel has adopted well-being as its theme: it offers free diagnoses at a neighboring wellness clinic and daily yoga and meditation classes, and includes vegetarian dishes on the menu at its Mexican-fusion restaurant. The hotel is several blocks from the beach, but guests can take a dip in a pool and Jacuzzi on the roof. Rooms are from US$160.

Taking off in Leon

This year the International Balloon Festival in the city of Leon has grown to 200 hot air balloons from around the world, including 25 “special shaped balloons.” Nearly 400,000 visitors are expected to flock to the city for this year’s festival from November 15 to 18 for a full program of colorful balloons, music, food and family entertainment.

International News

Dancing Elephant Festival in Myanmar

The Dancing Elephant Festival is a famous festival in Myanmar celebrated this year October 18-19. Held in Kyaukse, a two-hour drive from Mandalay, the festival features a fantastic dancing show with two men performing together in synchronization steps. The dancers enter a huge elephant figure made from bamboo and paper material and perform with accompaniment of local and traditional instruments.

Stonehenge opens new visitor center

A new visitor center opened at Stonehenge in the UK on October 1 that promises to transform the visitor experience. Stonehenge was too close to the road and had few support services. The new visitor center, set 1.2 miles from the actual Stone Circle, will protect the site and allow for a more informed and dramatic presentation.

The new center offers both permanent and temporary exhibits. The parking lot is connected to the Stone Circle by an environmentally sound passenger transit system. This will provide visitors with a first dramatic view of the stones, which will no longer be visible from the road. In spring 2014, three Neolithic houses will be recreated for the outdoor gallery, their construction guided by evidence of domestic buildings recently unearthed nearby.

Cruise News

New Amazon riverboat launches

International Expeditions launched a new riverboat, La Estrella Amazonica, on the Peruvian Amazon, where the company was a pioneer than 30 years ago.

Designed to provide comfortable and environmentally responsible transportation, La Estrella Amazonica offers a range of amenities including a private balcony in every cabin, a multimedia lecture room, a fitness center and an observation deck of more than 1,000 square feet. La Estrella Amazonica has a capacity of 31 guests in 15 air-conditioned outward-facing cabins of 220 square feet with private baths, decorated with Peruvian handcrafted furnishings.

The 10-day Amazon cruises from Iquitos are priced from US$4,398 per person, including daily naturalist-guided excursions; complimentary laundry service while onboard; nightly receptions with complimentary wine and beer; most meals; transfers; pre-cruise accommodations at Lima’s Swissôtel; use of a post-tour dayroom; tours of Colonial Lima and Iquitos; the services of an experienced expedition leader; and two local naturalist guides.

Air News

Airlines took in US$27 billion in fees in 2012

From paying for checked luggage and early boarding to extra legroom and on-board snacks, travelers know flying these days means never closing your wallet. Now, there’s more proof. Carriers around the world collected more than US$27 billion last year in fees and other non-fare revenue, which has become “a crucial component of airline income,” a new report finds. That’s a 20 percent jump over 2011.

United Airlines was tops among carriers in the total amount of non-fare revenue collected last year, followed by Delta, American and Southwest. Ultra-low cost carrier Spirit Airlines collected the most as a percentage of its total income, with fees and other extras making up 38.5 percent of its revenue pie.

The report analyzed financial information from 53 airlines that disclose their ancillary revenue, which includes the much-hated fees for services such as checked bags, priority check-in and assigned seats.

In the first quarter of this year, US airlines collected US$685 million in reservation change fees and more than US$800 million in baggage fees, according to the Department of Transportation.

Deal of the Week

Chinese New Year special

Join the spectacular celebrations of the spring festival in China, including the colorful and vibrant Chinese New Year. Wendy Wu Tours is offering a one-time eight-day tour departing January 25, 2014 that includes roundtrip airfare from New York, accommodations, domestic transportation, three meals a day, touring with guides and entrance fees, and visa fees for US and Canadian passport holders. Enjoy an exclusive Dragon Boat cruise, the Great Wall and the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, Xian and the Terracotta Warriors, New Year’s Eve in Shanghai, as well as Yu Gardens, Old Town and the Shanghai Museum. The cost is US$2,690 per person.

Judy Newell heads the travel company Perfect Journeys, which specializes in custom-designed independent tours, cruises and travel for singles, couples and friends. Perfect Journey’s small group tours for 2014 include a Paris and Normandy river cruise on the Seine in May and Argentina and Chile for wine lovers in October. Contact Judy by cell phone at 415-111-8765, by email at, or view the latest travel specials on the website

Sources: Travel Weekly, Country Walkers, Trails of Indochina, Travel Pulse, NBC News


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