New Cruise Line Sets Sail In 2014 With Small, Luxury Ships

new cruise lineNew cruise lines are about as rare as new hotel chains; there is just not a lot of action on that topic. Like hotel chains, airlines and other travel-related companies, most cruise lines have been around for a long time too. Still, there are those who see a need in the marketplace that existing companies just can’t fill. Such is the feel of new Pearl Sea Cruises, which will set sail in 2014 cruising the Canadian Maritimes, New England and the Caribbean.

Starting out by building just one new ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, Pearl Seas Cruises will operate various seven-, 10- and 11-night Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian Maritimes and New England cruises during their 2014 inaugural season.Currently undergoing final outfitting by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland, the Pearl Mist will be a Marshall Islands-flagged ship, first departing June 28, 2014, on an 11-night inaugural sailing from Baltimore to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On a total of 17 cruises planned for the 2014 season that runs through November, itineraries include:

  • Atlantic Coast– 11-night cruise from Baltimore to Halifax & reverse that showcases scenic areas long the U.S. East coast.
  • The Canadian Maritimes – 10-night cruise from Halifax to Québec focusing on Eastern Canada’s scenery, history and beauty.
  • St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands –seven-night cruise from Québec to Toronto & reverse taps international and old world charm via history, culture and scenic beauty.
  • Great Lakes and Georgian Bay – 10 and 11-night cruises from Toronto to Chicago & reverse features the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth, sailing through four of the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay.
  • Southeast United States – 11-night cruise from Baltimore to Nassau, Bahamas – this trip down the East Coast stops in the various iconic cities of the south and ends in the Caribbean.

Bringing the current destination focus of small-ship cruising to North America on a new luxury ship, Pearl Seas Cruises brings the latest in comfort, safety, technology and communication. Not that cruising the waters of North America is something new; river cruise lines have been doing that for quite some time. Pearl Seas will sail the coast on new ships, in luxury.

Unique to Pearl Seas are oversized staterooms, all with a private balcony and most with sliding glass doors, a spacious dining room, and a variety of lounges. Combined with on-board enrichment and entertainment programs as well as exclusive shore excursions, Pearl Seas Cruises looks like a new cruise line that should do well here.

Hottest Destinations for Fall Foliage


[Photo credit – Pearl Seas Cruises]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: The Best Foreign Service Blogs

smoking huge joint womanThe World Wide Web is saturated with amateurish blogs created by people who’d be lucky to command the devoted readership of their immediate family members, let alone the wider public. There are scores of blogs managed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and while many of them are worth reading, some are downright bizarre. This post will steer you toward some Foreign Service related blogs that are well worth your time.

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I started this series nine months ago to help people get a better understanding of what life in the U.S. Foreign Service is like. Many of the posts have been about my experiences but I’ve also introduced readers to an intrepid, single female diplomat fresh off of tours in Syria and Pakistan, a diplomatic courier, a USAID Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Afghanistan and others. But spend some time at the sites listed below to get a flavor of what it’s like to represent the U.S. Government in The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Pakistan and dozens of other exotic locales.toothless woman with stretched earlobes peasantOne major caveat here is that FSOs have to be careful what they write because free speech only takes you so far in the precarious, uber-cautious world of government service. Most FSOs have disclaimers on their sites warning that the views expressed are their own, but many still tend to steer clear of tackling political issues or anything controversial.

Peter Van Buren, a now retired diplomat who wrote “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” was effectively driven out of the Foreign Service partially because he posted a link to a cable on WikiLeaks and made some disparaging remarks, which he later apologized for, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his website.

There’s no doubt that his experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.

Some of the blogs below contain little, if any biographical info, and I wasn’t able to read each one in its entirety, so my apologies in advance if my impressions of these blogs below miss the mark. That said, I would invite the authors of these fine sites to tell us more about themselves, if they dare, in the comments section.

Diplopundit

Domani Spero has no U.S. government connection and thus has the freedom to write about the world of diplomacy without having to worry about his career. Diplopundit is as close as you’ll find to one-stop shopping for a candid look at what’s going on in the Foreign Service community.

Adventures in Good Countries- Getting Along In The Foreign Service

I love this blog. The author, apparently a single female public diplomacy officer who, “doesn’t date outside the visa waiver program,” blogs with style and passion about life in Japan, Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere, coping with Multiple Sclerosis and whatever else pops into her head. How can you not like a writer who offers advice to protesters on how to construct a good effigy? (“Don’t just throw something together with the rationale that you’re only going to burn it anyway – take some pride in your work.”)

We Meant Well

You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.

Third Culture Children

This blog, which details the lives of a family of five living in Recife, Brazil, La Paz, Bolivia and elsewhere, is one of the very best Foreign Service related sites out there. It’s a particularly good resource for parents who are wondering what the overseas experience will be like for their children.

amy gottlieb usaidAmy Gottlieb’s Photography & Blog

Gottlieb is a doctor and a USAID FSO currently serving in South Africa. Her portraits from Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, South America, Africa and beyond are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

Adventures Around the World- A Foreign Service Officer’s Tales of Life Abroad

The author of this refreshingly candid and well-written blog is currently in Kabul and has previously served in Iraq and Nepal. Here’s how she described the “honeymoon” period at a new post: “The honeymoon period is the time frame after moving to a foreign country where the excitement of being somewhere new overshadows certain harsh realities of living in a foreign country. People burning piles of trash in the street give the place ‘character’ and bargaining with a taxi driver is part of the ‘adventure.'”

Worldwide Availability

This is a stunning photo blog from an American diplomat who was born on a farm in China and is currently serving in South Korea. Visiting this site is the next best thing to booking a ticket to Seoul. Also, for those who are curious to know how long it takes to join the Foreign Service, take a look at his instructive personal timeline for some clues.

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic

Anyone who features a photo of themselves (I presume) with a Gambian poached rat on their homepage is all right by me. This is a blog from a FSO posted in Conakry, Guinea, a place where “you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason.”

The Slow Move East- Thoughts on Being an Expatriate

Hannah Draper, a FSO currently serving in Libya, might be a “Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East,” but her writing is compulsively readable.

Where in the World am I? Notes from the Streets of Hyderabad, India

A FSO in Hyderabad who previously served in Burundi blogs about food and life overseas with gusto.

Cross Words- A Blog About Writing and Anything Else That Comes to Mind

Ted Cross, a FSO currently living in Budapest who apparently just signed up for Facebook last week (Friend him!), tells us on his homepage that his “dream is to be a published author.” I like someone who isn’t afraid to tell the world what he wants. He’s into fantasy and science fiction, neither of which interests me, but his blog is unique and his writing is lucid.

Four Globetrotters- The (Most Likely) Incoherent Ramblings of a Sleep-Deprived Single Mother Living Overseas with her Trio of Kiddos

Anyone who can pull off being a single mom in the Foreign Service is someone I want to meet. This blog, written by a former Foreign Service brat, isn’t nearly as incoherent as advertised.

Beau Geste, Mon Ami- The Chronicle of my Journey to and through The Foreign Service

Even a quick breeze through this visually appealing blog will give you an idea of how varied and interesting life in the Foreign Service can be. If nothing else, do not miss the photos of the tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea.

Zvirdins at Large- Jamie and Andrew’s Excellent Adventures

If you want a slice of life from the Marshall Islands, this is the place to go. I love this blog but I couldn’t bring myself to click into the video entitled “Pig Shooting” in a post on “Pig Butchering.” Yikes.

Talesmag

This isn’t a FSO blog per se, but the site’s stories and “real post reports” on hundreds of cities around the globe are an invaluable resource for those seeking insights into the Foreign Service lifestyle.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I’ve missed any great FSO-related blogs and if you’re the author of ones of the sites mentioned above, tell us a bit about yourself.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Gottlieb)

Disappear From The Map On These Independent Islands

It’s the middle of a long workweek and you’re having that island escape fantasy again. You’re picturing yourself tan and shoeless and thousands of miles away from your office, beer in hand, lazing away afternoons on the deck of your cozy little bungalow. The location: one of a few independent islands ungoverned by international law and free from the outside world – a place where you, your money and your history can disappear.

Sound too good to be true? Believe it or not, there are still a few corners of this world where you can really escape. Read on to find out where.

Norfolk Island
One thousand miles east of Sydney and 900 north of New Zealand, the choice to inhabit this tiny piece of land adrift in the rollicking Pacific requires an active desire to be absorbed into a quirky community that prides itself on being behind the times. Inhabitants brag that the island’s telephone book is the only one in the world listed by nicknames. Residents speak Norf’k – a blend of old seafaring English and Tahitian. There are no stoplights – nor any railways, ports or harbors for that matter.

Although technically part of Australia, with that country’s postcode, currency and police force, Norfolk Island is proudly independent. It has its own nine-member government, not to mention its own customs rules, immigration laws and stamps. In true competitive Aussie form, it even has its own Commonwealth and South Pacific Games teams. Australian residents are not automatically entitled to relocate there. You have to be sponsored by an existing resident or business. If you make the cut, part of your Norfolkian reward is not having to pay Australian federal taxes. Instead the island raises money through an import duty, fuel and Medicare levies, and GST and local and international phone calls (and good luck getting an Internet connection consistent enough to use Skype).

%Gallery-159138%Jersey
Jersey is a parliamentary democracy that is a British island but not part of the United Kingdom. Constitutionally, its status is that of a Crown Peculiar, which implies the place is or was some sort of plaything for the King. Jersey’s official name is the Bailiwick of Jersey, which means a bailiff presides over it. Think Norman England, not Judge Judy. Here there are no political parties, no cabinet, not even a prime minister lurking about.

The largest of the Channel Islands, it’s divided into twelve parishes all named after Christian saints. Each is run by a Constable who serves the community for free (and you thought Mayor Bloomberg’s $1 a year salary was impressive). The Constable’s initial job description included “ensuring fresh horses for the royal entourage.” Today he still controls the Centeniers and Vingteniers, which are not the names of “Game of Thrones” characters, but rather the two branches of local police. Amongst others, they also enforce laws relating to ormer – an indigenous shellfish no one I know has ever heard of. Ormers are fiercely protected by a wealth of regulations, including: it is an offence to either possess fresh ormers or export them on the first day of a new or full moon and the five days following.

Marshall Islands
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is part of Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean. It’s made up of five islands, 29 low-laying atolls and around 65,000 people. It’s a presidential republic in free association with the United States – who offers defense, funding and social services. Oh, and $57 million a year. We’ve piled on another $2.3 billion for the small favor of using one of their atolls, the one with the largest lagoon in the world, as a missile test range until 2066.

Recently, the Marshallese government has turned their lawmaking attention to marine life. In 2011, they announced that over 700,000 miles of ocean (around the size of Mexico) would be reserved as a shark sanctuary. Enforcement officials will cut the gear right off your boat if they find you fishing for them, not to mention levy fines high enough to put you off shark fin soup completely. You might, however, be tempted to console yourself by downloading some pirated movies and music: the islands have no copyright laws.

Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are a parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand. Cook Island’s own website offers what is now officially my favorite description of a place: “The 15 islands of the Cooks lie halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, scattered like fragrant frangipani petals floating across 2.2 million square kilometers of a seductive, sensual ocean.” (If you don’t have to Google frangipani, you officially know more about flowers than I do.)

Sorry for the double standard Kiwis but you can be a Cook Islander and also a New Zealand citizen but not vice versa. Any foreigner who wants to purchase residential property must first invest in a business for at least five years. An exception to the law is snatching up a place no resident wants: that run-down warehouse on the highway is looking pretty good right about now. Two of my favorite local laws: you’re not allowed to build anything higher than a palm tree and no franchised businesses are allowed. Sorry, Starbucks.

Rachel Friedman is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure. She has written for The New York Times, New York and BUST magazines, among others. More about her at: www.rachel-friedman.com.

[Flickr image via bawpcwpn]

The 10 smallest countries in the world

ten smallest countries in the world

The world’s ten smallest countries in terms of area fall into two general categories: European microstates (Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican) and small island nations of the Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Caribbean (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Nauru, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Tuvalu.) Some of these countries are quite new as independent nations: Tuvalu gained independence from the UK in 1978, while the Marshall Islands gained full independence from the US in 1986. Others have been around for a very long time. San Marino dates its founding as a republic to 301. These countries vary greatly from one another along other axes as well: population, income, life expectancy, industry, tourist facilities, and membership in various international organizations.

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[Image of Tuvalu: Flickr | leighblackall]

Top ten most crowded islands in the world

most crowded islands

From an island microslum in Colombia to a haute enclave in central Paris, the ten most crowded islands in the world bear scant similarities in class or culture. In fact, every entry in the top ten comes from a different country. But being islands, each shares the common thread of scarcity – whether it be land, resources, or housing. In general, these islands are prophetical microcosms for an overcrowded earth – finite spaces where self sufficiency governs and demand pierces supply.

With the world’s population racing higher and higher, and the “megacities club” accepting new members yearly, some day the earth could bear the traits of one of these densely packed islands.

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most crowded islands

10. Vasilyevsky Island
Location: St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Population: 202,650
People per square kilometer: 18,592
Size: 10.9 square kilometers
Story: This island located in St. Pete is a collection of 18th and 19th century buildings with some Soviet built apartment blocks lining the Gulf of Finland on the western shore. The communist housing ethos of the twentieth century called for rows and rows of tight apartments, and this historic island in Russia’s second city was not immune to the sprawl. This created the compact quarters of Vasilyevsky island. Famous for its old school stock exchange and giant Rostral columns, the island is popular with tourists.

most crowded islands

9. Lilla Essingen
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Population: 4,647
People per square kilometer: 20,204
Size: .23 square kilometers
Story: This small island in central Stockholm once served as a hub of industry for Stockholm’s industrial operations. The easy boat access allowed for ease of shipping by boat, and the island factories manufactured an array of goods, from massive lamps for lighthouses to vacuum cleaners. Eventually, as the industrial applications became outmoded, the island became home to several apartment towers. Today, the island is crammed full of smiling Swedes living in apartments with (presumably) tasteful modern furniture.

most crowded islands

8. Île Saint-Louis
Location: Paris, France
Population: 2,465
People per square kilometer: 22,409
Size: .11 square kilometers
Story: Perhaps the most stylish island in the world, Île Saint-Louis is a marvel of 17th century urban architecture and planning. Narrow roads and some of the priciest real estate in the world have allowed the island to remain relatively calm, despite its location in central Paris. While Île Saint-Louis is off of the tourist radar for most, this island in the Seine River embodies the classic Parisian spirit, worthy of an afternoon stroll with a perfect sorbet from Berthillon. The island is named for France’s canonized King, Louis IX.

most crowded islands

7. Manhattan
Location: New York, New York
Population: 1,585,873
People per square kilometer: 26,879
Size: 59.47 square kilometers
Story: In 1626, the Lenape Indians sold Manhattan island to the Dutch for a bag of axes, hoes, iron kettles, duffel cloths and other 17th century garb worth about $24 (roughly $1000 in modern value). It is safe to day the island has grown ambitiously from this humble transaction. The center of the financial universe is now home to many – truly a place where the world lives. The island once known as New Amsterdam, and briefly, New Orange, shadows America’s story, both tragic and triumphant.

most crowded islands

6. Salsette Island
Location: Mumbai, India
Population: 13,175,000
People per square kilometer: 30,217
Size: 436 square kilometers
Story: Salsette, an island off the western coast of India, is home to Mumbai and its sprawling suburbs. As a poster boy for “New India,” Mumbai is as dichotomous as it gets, at once the wealthiest city in south Asia and also home to one of the world’s largest slums – the notorious Dharavi. Dharavi is an island within an island, a super-slum with roughly one million people spread out over an area less than a square mile. At the other end of the spectrum, Salsette Island is also home to extreme wealth. The house known as Antilla is a 400,000 square foot giant that towers with some of Mumbai’s tallest buildings. Truly a contrast from the squalor in Dharavi, the private residence houses six people, can accommodate 168 cars, has 9 elevators, and an ice room with snow flurries.


most crowded islands

5. Ebeye Island
Location: Marshall Islands
Population: 15,000
People per square kilometer: 41,667
Size: .36 square kilometers
Story: When the United States decided to test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific, they chose to do so amongst the atolls of the Marshall Islands. U.S. officials uprooted many residents from Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll to insure that the testing did not directly harm human life. The relocated Marshallese had to move somewhere, and most moved to Ebeye under the assistance of the United States. This forced relocation caused a huge mess, including a severe housing shortage and land owner legality issues that persist today. The combination of factors created an environment of hostility and squalor, creating the slum of the South Pacific.


most crowded islands

4. Malé
Location: The Maldives
Population: 103,693
People per square kilometer: 53,121
Size: 1.952 square kilometers
Story: The Maldives is one of Asia’s top tourist destinations, with 26 atolls and 1,192 islands offering beach perfection. At its center is the capital city – Male. Male is a humbly sized island of just a couple square miles. It is stuffed full of people, hotels, mosques, and office towers that efficiently utilize the scare land resources. While landfills have reclaimed some land from the sea, most progress is made vertically rather than horizontally. The modern downtown island in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a stark aberration from the deserted islands that dot most of the Maldives.

most crowded islands

3. Ap Lei Chau
Location: Hong Kong
Population: 86,782
People per square kilometer: 66,755
Size: 1.32 square kilometers
Story: Hong Kong is the land of a thousand towers, clustered most densely on the island of Ap Lei Chau just southwest of Hong Kong Island. Ap Lei Chau served as the settlement for Hong Kong Village, theorized to be the etymological source for the famous larger territory of Hong Kong. Strangely, Ap Lei Chau translates to Duck Tongue Island, said to be named for the island’s shape. It is filled with high rise residences and even a winery.

most crowded islands

2. Migingo Island
Location: Kenya, though Uganda disputes this
Population: 400
People per square kilometer: 100,000
Size: .004 square kilometers
Story: This bantomslum in the middle of Lake Victoria is a fishing village perched precariously on half a sphere of rock. The residents take in large hauls of the Nile Perch – a poster boy for River Monsters that can grow to a comedically large size. Migingo is famous for a decades-old dispute between Kenya and Uganda over the sovereignty of the small island. There is even a facebook page where individuals can “like” declaring the island Kenyan. (The page has twice as many followers as there are residents on Migingo.) Uganda agrees with this claim, most of the time, though the tiny rock island is not the issue – the fishing rights are.

most crowded islands

1. Santa Cruz del Islote
Location: Colombia
Population: 1,247
People per square kilometer: 124,700
Size: .01 square kilometers
Story: The most densely populated island in the world is a microslum off the coast of Colombia. This tropical island is located in the emerald waters of the idyllic Caribbean, though is packed so tight that most activities are done off island. Schooling, football, graveyards, and work all take place away from Santa Cruz del Islote. The island park is the size of a small tennis court, and fresh water must be shipped in by Colombian Navy ships. Santa Cruz del Islote also does not have electricity. What the island favela does have is people, lots of them. To visit the world’s most packed island, hop on a ferry from Tolu, Colombia. The nearby hotel of Punta Faro can arrange tours of the island.

All unattributed images from wikimedia commons