Eurostar Revamps Services In A Bid To Lure Fliers

Long-distance train travel is making a comeback with Eurostar announcing plans to expand its services. The high-speed train, which primarily serves London, Brussels and Paris, has its sights set on new destinations across the European continent.

Eurostar says its entire system is undergoing an overhaul – from the booking process, to the routes, to the trains themselves. The company’s website has been given a facelift in order to create a more user-friendly booking portal, and brand new uniforms have been designed for the crew. Updated trains are also in the pipeline and are expected to be up and running by 2015.As far as network expansion goes, Eurostar says it has its eye on a number of possible routes including London-Holland and London-Germany. Eurostar’s Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic says he will be looking closely at routes that currently have a lot of air traffic. He told CNN he hopes travelers will eventually come to think of train travel the same way they think of flying.

Eurostar’s overhaul comes in the wake of stiff competition from German train line Deutsche Bahn, which has said it will offer trips across the Channel Tunnel starting in 2016.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Mike Knell]

United Rolls Out Wi-Fi On Overseas Flights

It used to be that one of the few places you couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal was at 30,000 feet, but soon there will be no excuse for being out of touch (or not getting work done) as airlines implement a dramatic expansion of onboard Wi-Fi services.

More than half of the planes flown by U.S. carriers currently offer Wi-Fi onboard, but United and other airlines are planning to up the ante by offering satellite-based Internet service en route. This not only means faster speeds, but the ability to get online during overseas flights – something not previously possible using ground-based technology.However, installing the satellite technology onto existing aircraft is no mean feat, with airlines forced to ground a plane for 15 days to get the system up and running. Engineers also have to run a series of tests to make sure passengers can get the signal strength they’re paying for. Since the shape and composition of a plane can cause Wi-Fi signals to bounce all over the place, experts have had their hands full making sure you can get can online no matter where on the plane you’re sitting.

And then there’s the cost. Installing Wi-Fi on a single aircraft sets the airline back more than $200,000 – and that’s not counting the revenue lost from taking the aircraft out of service for so long. Of course, airlines will more than make the money back in the long run thanks to the charges for using the Wi-Fi, which will range from around $4 to $23 depending on the flight.

Twenty of United’s planes are already equipped with the new Wi-Fi technology, with plans to bring that number up to 300 by the end of the year.

Check out the video below to learn more about United’s Wi-Fi expansion plans.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Robert Raines]

Gulfstream’s $500 million expansion of Savannah, GA headquarters to create 1,000 jobs

According to many pundits, the so-called recession that gripped the world in 2009 is far from “over,” but we’ve been noticing steady signs of recovery in the travel industry over the course of 2010. While consumers and businesspeople alike are still pinching pennies and thinking twice as hard about where their funds are going, more and more bodies are moving about, particularly by plane. Gulfstream, which maintains a headquarters in Savannah, Georgia, seems more convinced than ever that we’re on the rebound, and it’s announcing today a huge investment that’ll better position it “to meet future demand for business-jet aircraft and support services.”

The spend? $500 million over the next seven years, and that’ll buy significant expansion of its Savannah plant as well as around 1,000 full-time Gulfstream Aerospace jobs (a hike of about 15 percent from its current level of 5,500 employees). According to Savannah Now, those positions will include production specialists, engineers, and support technicians. Needless to say, quite a few folks in the Peach State are celebrating the news, with Gov. Sonny Perdue being one of many on hand today for the announcement. Moreover, the expansion will result in new facilities at the northwest quadrant of the Savannah / Hilton Head International Airport.

Gulfstream suggests that the investment will also help it meet a growing demand for large-cabin aircraft, with large chunks of the cash used to build production plants for G650 (“Like a G6!”) and G250 jets, as well as maintenance capacity for all of the models that the company manufactures. Unsurprisingly, we’re hearing that the bulk of that demand is coming from international clients (Asia Pacific, specifically), but the company seems bound and determined to keep its roots in the south.

We know Gulfstream doesn’t speak for the entire aviation industry, but it’s definitely good to see a major player like this making such a tremendous investment in the future of air travel. Here’s hoping it’s just the beginning of a beautiful turnaround.

[Via Twitter (@mksteele)]

Walt Disney World changing plans for Fantasyland expansion

The construction walls have been up for months, but Walt Disney World says its plans for expanding Fantasyland are being redrawn in an attempt to broaden its appeal.

When the Fantasyland expansion plans were introduced last year, the first thing most Disney fans noticed was that the new area of the theme park was aimed squarely at one demographic: young girls. There was a Little Mermaid theme park ride, castles for Belle and Aurora, and three interactive princess meet-and-greet areas.

Sure, the marketing of the Disney Princesses has been one of the company’s biggest wins ever, but where was the boy stuff?

Apparently, it’s a question that Tom Staggs, the new chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, was asking, too. He is the dad of three young sons, after all.

Orlando Sentinel writer Jason Garcia
interviewed Staggs this week and confirmed the rumors that the Fantasyland plans are being redrawn. Staggs indicated that the new plans may involve more thrills, as planners are reviewing the mix of “aspirational rides” with thrills or tension and rides that are for everyone.

Staggs said that the changes to Fantasyland shouldn’t delay the 2012 and 2013 opening dates of the new attractions. Testing and research on new guest experiences that are to be incorporated in the new attractions, such as Disney’s new queue-less wait system, have also been going on at Walt Disney World for several months.

$452 million to be invested in Disneyland Hong Kong

The Walt Disney Co. said on Tuesday that it will be investing US$452 million in park expansions, seen as necessary to compete with a planned rival park in Shanghai.

The expansion will include three new “lands,” and thirty new attractions. A source familiar with the plan stated that two of the new lands will be exclusive to Hong Kong Disneyland for five years after opening. The park will have exclusive rights in Asia to the third new land for five years, the source said.

The first area will take three years to complete and the next two will begin over the following two years with the entire expansion set for completion in 2014.The much larger Disneyland rival in Shanghai is also expected to be complete in 2014, assuming that it receives approval from the Chinese government.

So Disney fans, start making plans – and for the ultra-dedicated you might have to reschedule that ultimate park-hopper pass.