Kayak.com Launches Online Dating Search

No longer content with just connecting travelers to the cheapest airfares, hotel rooms and car rentals, Kayak.com is now putting its algorithm skills to the test with a new online dating service.

Similar to its travel-related searches, the service pulls profiles from online dating sites – including OkCupid, eHarmony, Match.com and even Craigslist – and then compares them in one easy-to-filter interface.

Using the new service, single people begin searching for potential matches based on location, age and sexual preference. From there, users can sort results by dating characteristics and personality traits using an interface that works in the exact same manner as Kayak.com’s hotel and flight filters. These filters vary, but include body type, diet and pets, meaning now users can find the skinny, vegan cat-lover they’ve always been searching for.

“[Kayak.com] will apply its superior metasearch capabilities to its best use yet – finding true love,” said a representative from the website in a press release. “Why search dozens of online dating services yourself, when you could search [Kayak.com] and compare hundreds of dating sites at once?”

[Image credit: Kayak.com]

World’s Largest Cruise Ship On The Move, Testing European Waters

The world’s largest cruise ship is on the move introducing Europe to its many wonders on a short autumn season in 2014. Known far and (extra) wide as a destination in and of herself, Oasis of the Seas will bring a ginormous cruising experience to the world of transatlantic crossings.

Oasis of the Seas is a no-brainer match for transatlantic sailings, often challenged with keeping passengers occupied during the many days at sea needed to make the crossing.

Most cruise travelers who have sailed on an Oasis-class ship agree with Lisa Bauer, executive vice president of Global Sales and Marketing, Royal Caribbean International, who said of the one-of-a-kind onboard experience, “Nothing can compare to the Oasis-class vacation experience, a testament to Royal Caribbean’s more than 40 years of innovation. No thinking needed!”

Indeed, for those to whom the thought of playing card games, reading books, conversing with one another (yikes!) or attending the typical enrichment programs offered on a crossing have little value, an Oasis-class crossing might be just the ticket. If an 82-foot-long zip line, a handcrafted carousel, bungee cord drop within inches of the ocean surface, Broadway musicals and the Aquatheater high-diving performance venue can’t keep cruise travelers occupied, there’s more. The ship’s multiple “neighborhoods” including New York-inspired “Central Park” or Detroit’s “Underbelly,” where kids of all ages let loose with cans of colorful spray paint, truly have a place for everyone but Royal Caribbean has more in store.

“Now vacationers can combine Europe’s rich cultures and history with the world’s largest and most innovative cruise ship for a regional experience that can only be found on Royal Caribbean,” said Bauer.

Enriching and educational offerings include twin FlowRider surf simulators, helicopter-supported cantilevered whirlpool tubs that detach from the ship and float around, an ice-skating rink and the H20 Zone kids aqua park (also a backdrop for the adults-only shooting range) and passengers should find plenty to occupy their time.

Cold outside in the open sea of the often-frigid Atlantic? The ship’s Royal Promenade, an interior boulevard that stretches nearly the length of the ship is flanked by restaurants, pet shops, lounges and boutiques, eliminating the “oh it’s too cold out to go on deck” experience had by many who have done a crossing in the past.

Bauer adds, “And for those who have always wanted more time to enjoy the myriad activities on Oasis of the Seas, our two transatlantic cruises will offer more than enough time to do everything on board, as well as some surprises along the way.”

To make the voyage even more special, Oasis of the Seas will spin around in circles, taking twice the normal time.

Transatlantic crossings, typically a yawn fest for kids, will feature Royal Caribbean’s intense family programming ensuring that guests of every generation can share/enjoy a European family vacation. The cruise line’s complimentary Adventure Ocean kids program nails that.

Taking advantage of the ships size, new programming packages include “Lose My Kid For A Day,” where children simply disappear in the morning and reappear at night, and “I Never Want To See My Kid Again,” which takes kids on a wild ride through the world of … well, they’re not giving out all the details on that one quite yet.

“Does it matter what we do with them?” adds Bauer.

A choice of two transatlantic crossings can frame a European vacation in a way not available before to passengers of all ages.

A 12-night eastbound cruise from the ship’s homeport of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Barcelona departs Sept. 1, 2014, to position Oasis of the Seas in Europe.

Once there, a choice of three Europe sailings include two round-trip sailings on a five-night Western Mediterranean itinerary from Barcelona, and a seven-night Spain itinerary sailing from Barcelona to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Wonder why Royal Caribbean is sending Oasis away from Port Everglades?

“It smells bad,” guessed one reader in a recent Gadling poll.

“They are mean?” posited another.

Both are wrong.

In addition to testing European waters, Oasis was launched in December 2009 and that seven-night Spain itinerary takes the ship to a dry dock in Képpel Verolme shipyard for routine maintenance via the poppy fields of Germany where additional “supplies” will be taken on for the extra long voyage.

Coming back to North America, a 13-night westbound cruise will return 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas to Port Everglades from Rotterdam on October 14. Vacationers also can embark the westbound transatlantic cruise at Southampton on October 15, 2014.

Bonus: a two-night Bahamas cruise departing on August 30 and a five-night Western Caribbean cruise departing on Oct. 27, 2014, both round trip from Port Everglades, will bookend Oasis of the Seas’ short 2014 Europe season.

Adventure travelers? Royal Caribbean has had enough of your whining about how cruise vacations are “not really traveling” and is going all out to prove you wrong.

How about these new shore excursions being offered during the transatlantic crossing, a time when the ship does not actually stop at all:

  • Iron Man Warm-up with Lunch takes runners, hikers and bikers off the ship challenging them to keep up with giant Oasis of the Seas as she steams toward Europe at 38 knots.
  • Shark Wrestling, after a short safety lesson, assigns a highly-skilled guide to throw those attending off the ship into shark infested waters armed only with a roll of duct tape and a cassette tape of the ship’s Maitre ‘d singing Italian love songs.
  • Fly For The Cause continues Royal Caribbean’s support of breast cancer awareness, taking participants up in a seaplane and dropping them for 15,000 feet of free fall into the ocean below without a parachute. In the casino, closed-circuit TV monitors fuel the betting that will naturally ensue, all for the cause.

“Stick that in your backpack and smoke it adventure kids, this is how the grown-ups play,” concluded Bauer.

[Photo credit – Flickr user Paul Dickerson]

Highclere Castle, Home Of ‘Downton Abbey,’ Being Transformed Into Luxury Hotel

Highclere Castle, the picturesque home of the famous television series “Downton Abbey” and current home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, has been sold to an Chinese-based hotel investment company that plans to turn the famed historic estate into a luxury boutique hotel, scheduled for opening in early 2015.

First Class Holdings, LLC, the property’s new ownership group, says that the new property will have fewer than 100 rooms, including a presidential suite in what was formerly the Earl and Countess’ bedroom.

The property’s existing features will be converted for use in a hotel – with the former servant’s quarters housing staff and the existing kitchens revamped for use in the hotel’s restaurant, which will serve traditional English fare.

A full-service spa will take the place of the former estate stables, and a rooftop swimming pool is planned, offering scenic views of the English countryside.

The cost of the project? An estimated $350 million. The planned hotel development is not scheduled to impact the filming of the beloved television series – the hotel will be closed for one month out of each year to allow for production to continue as usual.

Would you stay in the Downton Hotel? Let us know in the comments below.

UNESCO Adds Airport Security Checks To List Of Intangible Cultural Heritage

UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural and education agency, announced today that the United States’ airport check-in procedures would be added to its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The annual list recognizes valuable social practices and customs that require urgent measures to sustain.

Over the past decade, the security procedures at the nation’s airports have become a series of Orwellian checkpoints and searches. Popular backlash in recent years, including lawsuits and congressional hearings, has curtailed some of the powers of the Transport Security Administration (TSA), the “local actors” who protect the vital tradition.

A panel of UNESCO experts felt the practices of enhanced pat-downs and radiation-emitting body scanning were in danger of being snuffed out.

“It’s imperative that measures are taken now to ensure the continued practice of this valuable piece of American heritage. A majority of people in opposition to the practice is precisely why we must take action now to preserve it,” a UNESCO spokesman said.

“The draconian procedures that each person is treated to at America’s airports are a living, breathing representation of the spirit of authoritarian government that made this country so great,” he continued.

This is the first time that an American cultural institution has been included on the list, which features other culturally significant entries like Viennese coffee culture, Indian Vedic chanting and Peruvian scissor dancing.

UNESCO singled out the TSA for “unwavering obstinacy in the face of popular sentiment,” calling the organization “a beacon of hope for oppressed customs around the world.”

They also acknowledged the participation of the American people, who in spite of virtually unanimous hostility to the practice allow it to continue relatively unabated.

“It’s a part of our heritage, to be sure,” said America’s secretary of culture, Emmanuel Goldstein. “It’s something every American should be proud of, whether they like it or not.”

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

Hotel Mints Contribute To Obesity Epidemic, Study Finds

Leaving chocolates on hotel bed pillows during the evening “turn down” service has long been standard practice among fine establishments in the hospitality industry, but a new report out today has slammed the tradition for contributing to the growing obesity epidemic.

According to the Society For Prevention Against A Portly Populace, the sweet treats are a primary contributor to “vacation belly” – the sudden and enduring weight gain experienced by travelers following their break. Mark Smith, President of the society, says travelers are particularly vulnerable when it comes to sweet temptations, and the repercussions of caving in to cravings are likely to be felt on the thighs and hips for a long time to come. “People tend to be more relaxed when they’re on vacation, so exerting the willpower necessary to stay away from chocolates is actually much harder,” says Smith. “They get back to their room after a pleasant day of sightseeing, notice the mint on the pillow, and think ‘Oh, what the heck, I’m on vacation, I might as well put the diet on vacation too.'”Unfortunately, most travelers don’t just stop at one mint. The International Organization of Hotel Sundries says a growing number of guests call down to reception claiming housekeeping “forgot” to leave them a mint. “Although we never argue with guests, we know they’re just fishing for extras,” says chairman Alex Flinch. “Just like we do with towels and bedding, we keep strict tabs on how many chocolates are left in each room.” Flinch says many hotels are forced to special order extra mints as supplies dwindle because of guests pinching chocolates from unattended housekeeping carts in hotel corridors.

The authors of the report estimate the hotel mints are costing the health industry around $12 billion dollars a year, mostly in the form of travelers needing liposuction before embarking on their next vacation where the costly mint-eating habit resumes. Experts say the best way of halting the vicious cycle is for hotels to stop the practice of leaving mints during turn down, or at the very least, reducing the size of the chocolates. In 1950, the average hotel mint was the size of a dime – or around 3 calories. Today’s mints are packed with nearly 26 times the amount of fat as their ancestors.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Dan Perry]