Help for Haiti still coming in a number of ways

Help for Haiti
Help for Haiti in the way of relief efforts has been a big, ongoing task. Traditional relief organizations have been spread thin and much-appreciated donations are helping them continue their work. Unlike some other natural disasters that happened in lands with fertile economies, Haiti was not in good shape before the devastating earthquake hit over a year ago. It was virtually a knockout punch for the already down-and-out nation. But some unconventional sourcing of direction for the lost land is making an impact.

Highly-visible to anyone following the situation in Haiti is actor Sean Penn. After some of the world’s biggest entertainers had come, raised millions, then left, Penn stayed behind. At the one-year anniversary of the disaster, he told popeater.com

“The [current] projects are shelter-focused with connective tissues to basic services, but even the most well-funded among them are poised to take very small cautious steps in terms of permanent housing,” Penn said of the current situation on the ground in Port-au-Prince. “There are 1.2 million people displaced, and only small pilot projects in the foreseeable future. The current challenge is the definition or the selection of beneficiaries [for funds both raised and promised], meaning among these extremely vulnerable populations, we can expect nothing more than demonstration models in 2011.”

To help keep the world’s focus on this situation that is far from resolved, Penn will address the Clinton Global Initiatives Meeting in April but touched base with the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain a few weeks ago.

To start the seventh season of the Emmy award-winning Travel Channel program NO RESERVATIONS, Bourdain traveled to Haiti and spent some time with actor/humaitarian Penn.

Gadling reported just before the season premiere a different theme for NO RESERVATIONS this year aimed to uncover beauty in the dark corners of humanity, a focus promised to be delivered throughout the new season.

“The Haiti episode, which contrasted his tour of the country’s culinary highlights with scenes of its continued blight and poverty, was less a travel show than a kind of multilayered essay on Haiti’s political history, the ethics of tourism, the morality of journalism/voyeurism and the wisdom of well-intentioned efforts. No Reservations is not a news documentary (though it was nominated for a news Emmy a few years ago for an episode on Beirut), but in a way, this was one of the most thoughtful pieces of cultural journalism I’ve watched in a while.” said critic James Poniewozik, on the Season 7 premiere of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

One by one, relief organizations, celebrities and businesses help keep the world’s focus on Haiti and the long road ahead. One forward-thinking company had ties to Haiti long before the devastating earthquake.

Royal Caribbean International has a private destination in Haiti called Labadee. It’s an island oasis for cruise ship passengers. Full-time Royal Caribbean Hatian employees work on the island year-round and depend on ships visiting to support their families and friends. Just after the earthquake, many were critical of the line for continuing to visit the island, dropping off cruise passengers for pleasure while so much devastation was so close-by. But the line remained focused on it’s long-term commitment to Haiti, delivering much-needed first-responder supplies and helping in other ways with the survival and reconstruction.

Royal Caribbean International took a look back this week to the building of L’Ecole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean, one of the first schools to be built in Haiti after the earthquake.

The school is on land Royal Caribbean leases from the Haitian government. The cruise line worked with gobal builder InnoVida and used the company’s Fiber Composite Panels to build the entire school complex in just four weeks, using 50 local Haitian workers. All construction materials were transported onboard their cruise ships. InnoVida’s structures can sustain hurricane winds, resist earthquakes due to their high deflection capacity, are waterproof and are a highly energy efficient system.

Beginning just days after the earthquake, Royal Caribbean transported more than 3,000 pallets of much needed supplies on Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises ships that called on Labadee.

I was on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas as one of the first ships to call after the earthquake and remember vividly the comments from local vendors and artisans who told me almost universally

“We need people to come off the ships. People are afraid to come off the ships…that it is not right to be here when so much damage is done. We need the people to come see us, buy what we have to sell, give us a chance…”

To date, Royal Caribbean’s monetary contribution to the Haiti relief effort is at least $2.5 million, which includes money raised from the donated Labadee calls, the onboard guest donations, and matching funds. The company’s operations at Labadee impact over 500 local Haitians who are either employees or vendors at Labadee commuting from nearby villages. Royal Caribbean also employs over 200 Haitian crew members onboard ships.

Flickr photo by newbeatphoto

NO RESERVATIONS: Bourdain to push limits on new season

NO RESERVATIONS new seasonAnthony Bourdain charges back with an all new season of NO RESERVATIONS starting this Monday. In this seventh season of the Emmy award-winning Travel Channel program, Tony starts in Haiti to uncover beauty in the dark corners of humanity, a theme promised to be delivered throughout the new season.

Calling it as he sees it, Bourdain puts a new perspective on the situation in Haiti during a visit with actor/humanitarian Sean Penn in the opener February 28. His frank, unique summations, open a never-before-seen window to the enduring devastation that continues a year later.

Regular viewers are promised a different season this year as Bourdain takes personal risks leading to a renewed sense of purpose in his journey. By taking viewers to off the grid locations that challenge him with a better understanding of human existence, Bourdain probes behind the underlying stories.

Gadling readers hooked on our new series, Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV), will totally be in the right mind to glean new perspectives from the intense and evolving focus of both NO RESERVATIONS and it’s host.

In Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV), Gadling’s Rolf Potts hopes to “glean five days worth of travel experiences from the glowing parameters of a single TV set and figure out what the Travel Channel might be saying about how one should see the world.”

On NO RESERVATIONS, Anthony Bourdain is back to give viewers more of his trademark sharp commentary on the world…with a twist. Throughout the season, viewers will watch a transformation of sorts in the progran’s host. In one episode, he’ll travel to Cambodia and identify a parallel between Cambodia’s development and his own maturation, seeking to reconnect with this historically rich country during his second visit.

Viewers can chat live with Anthony Bourdain during the premiere episode Monday February 28, 2011 on the Travel Channel @NoReservations.

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Cruise line private islands, a very safe port

Cruise Line Private IslandsOften a highlight of a cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean is a stop at one of the cruise line’s private islands. Probably one of the safest, most controlled ports of call you might visit, cruise line private islands are consistently ranked high by passengers. Most are located in the Bahamas and each one is unique.

On every private island you will find crystal clear water, sandy beaches, water sports and activities along with beach-side service for drinks and lunch will be served. Some require tendering in from the ship, others dock at the island.

The first passengers off the ship will find a pristine beach raked and clean, along with resident workers ready to make your stay comfortable. There is plenty to do (or not do) for adults and kids and even serene adult-only areas.Cruise line private islandsGreat Stirrup Cay, Bahamas is Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island, under their care since 1977 when the line became the first to have one. The island features Snorkeling

Recent enhancements to the island that started in January of 2010 will continue through the end of this year. Several new island activities have been added since the project began including more than 16 wave runners, kayak rentals and an eco-adventure boat tour around the island. These are in addition to the existing snorkeling; floats; inflatable hippo slide; and parasailing.

The second phase of enhancements includes an arrival/departure pavilion, additional bar facilities; several comfort stations; a band stand; cruise program activity area; private beachfront cabanas; a kid’s play area; straw market; and beach volleyball courts. The beachfront will continue to be expanded on the island’s west end.

cruise line private islandsHalf Moon Cay, Bahamas This Holland America Line island (now also a Carnival island) was originally called Little San Salvador Island and has been rated as “Best Private Island” by Porthole Cruise Magazine. An international bird sanctuary in the Bahamas, the beauty and serenity of Half Moon Cay is unique.

There are a variety of exciting and new activities to choose from while exploring this privately owned paradise. You can go horseback riding on the sand and through the surf, take a stingray adventure, visit the Half Moon Lagoon Aqua Park, hike a nature trail or simply relax in an air-conditioned, private beachfront cabana.

cruise line private islandsPrincess Cays, Bahamas is Princess Cruises private island on the south side of Eleuthera Island about 30 miles from Nassau. Princess Cays guests will find equipment for many beach activities. Water sports fans can choose from water craft such as sailboats, catamarans, paddle wheelers, kayaks, and banana boats, while those who wish to explore the island’s coral reef can rent gear for snorkeling.

Floating mattresses are available for lazily drifting in the sun, and several protected swimming areas are available on both the north and south beach areas. Beachside, reggae and calypso music set the mood, and guests can enjoy a game of volleyball or basketball, or choose to relax with a hammock, beach chair or under an umbrella.

cruise line private islandsCocoCay, Bahamas is one of two private islands for Royal Caribbean. This one is more along the lines of other cruise lines private islands with sandy beaches (duh) and a nice hammock here and here to enjoy your island-style seaside barbecue.

Tip: When you get off the tenders, there are three beaches to go to. The first one is the biggest and the most crowded. Keep walking and you’ll find the second beach, which is a little smaller and less crowded. Keep going even further and you’ll find the third beach, which is the smallest and least crowded.

cruise line private islandsLabadee, Haiti in is the home to what Royal Caribbean calls their “private destination” and with good reason. On the north coast of Hispaniola, the secure, secluded area is surrounded by exotic foliage and mountain slopes. Guests can enjoy beautiful coral reefs, a pristine public beach as well as a very nice private beach area reserved for suite guests.

A year ago Royal Caribbean International came under close scrutiny as the line planned to visit their private destination of Labadee, Haiti shortly after a devastating earthquake rocked the island. I was on board Freedom of the Seas last January when critics said it was in bad taste for the line to have cruise passengers go ashore for fun and sun while so many were suffering on different parts of the island nation. A year later, not a lot is better in Haiti and Royal Caribbean continues to call.

cruise line private islandsCastaway Cay, Bahamas is Disney Cruise Line’s private island. Unique to Castaway Cay is that the ship docks at the island, no tendering involved, which makes for a great experience. Recently updated, this one has it all.

This is Disney Cruise Line turning an island into a theme park, complete with rides, trams to get around on, gift shops plus really good food. All other private islands pale by comparison. Really.

They should build hotels here and let people stay a while. No wonder some sailings include two stops at the popular island.

If all those are not good enough for you, maybe you should just buy your own



Flickr photo by fotodawg

Luxury At Sea: Royal Caribbean Suites

Royal Caribbean SuitesThey come in all sizes. They are the top of the line accommodations. Those who book them pay a premium price. Along with them come exclusive amenities and on-board benefits. Let’s take a look at the suites of Royal Caribbean International, their layout, design and what to expect should you book one.

The size and number of suite accommodations vary from one class of ship to another. To get a good idea of a typical suite fleet-wide, today we look at a Grand Suite on Freedom of the Seas, a popular ship that sails from Port Canaveral in Florida. This is not the newest ship and surely not the oldest but pretty typical of what one might find in these exclusive accommodations although sizes and configuration do vary across the Royal Caribbean fleet.

Grand Suites in Freedom of the Seas are 432 square feet in size. That’s considerably larger than a standard balcony cabin on that ship which comes in at about 200 square feet. So right off the bat you have more space, accommodating up to five guests.

But it’s not so much the extra space that matters with a Grand Suite as it is what comes with it.

The first stop on the luxury train is the restricted-access Concierge Lounge, exclusively for Suite guests and top-level members of the line’s Crown and Anchor Society past-guest program. Inside this special area suite guests will find

  • A dedicated Concierge who is available to assist with anything they might require
  • Twenty-four-hour a day use of the Concierge Club Lounge
  • Continental breakfast every morning and open bar & hors d’oeuvres every evening available in the Concierge Club Lounge
  • Assistance with reservations for Portofino Italian restaurant & Chops Grille Steakhouse
  • Assistance with booking shore excursions, Salon or Spa treatments and Priority tickets for the ice skating show
  • Assistance with the arrangement of private parties, pre-ordering dinner wine and more

%Gallery-114635%In addition, suite guests also get priority seating in the main theater, priority tender tickets at ports that require tendering to shore, admission to a VIP area on deck, luxury spa bathrobes, upgraded lotions, shampoos, conditioners and bath gels (because you have a bathtub, not just a shower) and priority departure via the ship’s exclusive suite departure lounge.

One of the best parts (as if all of the above was not enough) is the ability to order breakfast, lunch and dinner to be delivered to your suite. Ordering off the complete in-suite menus, just a phone call to room service brings dining right into your suite.

Those same benefits apply to all suite categories except Junior Suites. Still, those too are spacious staterooms, coming in at 320 square feet on Freedom of the Seas and a great choice for families. They include a minibar, vanity area, hair-dryer, TV, phone, vanity table with an extendable working surface for laptop computers Some have sofa beds and can accommodate 3-4 guests.

5 tips for people who really don’t want to go on a cruise

don't want to go on a cruiseMaybe hiking, biking, backpacking or pretty much any other minimizing endeavor is more what you have in mind for traveling but someone is dragging you along on a cruise. There’s just no way you’re getting out of it. Is there hope for you? Yes. A little. Not much. But some.

Pace yourself- Food will always be available 24 hours a day on board. You might not be used to that with your triathlon training and all so do some stomach stretching exercises prior to boarding. You will need the extra room. Stop pouting that there are no granola bars or energy drinks. There are. On cruises they are called “shots” and you find them at the bars. You’ll enjoy the walk to get them and recent studies suggest those extra steps will help prevent diabetes.

No barfing- You are concerned about the possibility of becoming sea sick because the little path on your normal mountain hike doesn’t really move around much. Think of it like that and yeah, you probably will be. Prepare for shooting the rapids in Colorado with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing and you’ll be fine. It could be worse. You could have been invited along for a taping of Paris Hilton’s new reality show.

Know where you are going- Take time before the cruise to check out a travel guide on the places you will visit. Duh. Just because you don’t have any say in where the ship goes doesn’t mean you can’t meet fun and find interesting people. You probably won’t find any of them on the ship but maybe when you go ashore.

Careful with spending- The food is included in the price of your cruise but that’s about it. Beverages, both alcoholic and sodas are not included. Want a sip of water? You’ll pay $23.54 for that. This is why people smuggle booze on the ship. They do have beds so leave your sleeping bag at home with your tent. Bring your flashlight though, cruise passenger are fascinated by shiny things.

Relax. That may seem like a silly tip but you would be surprised how many people try to pack so much into every day that they need a vacation after they get back from their cruise to recuperate. Know this as a fact: There are way too many things to do and you can not possibly do them all. To be more accurate, there are too many things to do that you will think are stupid so bring a telescope and memorize the sky. Maybe you can find a 14th sign of the zodiac.

Flickr photo by Robbie Howell