Time is Running Out for the Maldives, a Country That Might Not Be Around for Much Longer

You may have heard of the Maldives. It’s a tropical travel paradise, with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. An island nation in the Indian Ocean, it is composed of 26 atolls that are home to some of the world’s best diving. The Maldives is a place that’s beautiful, exotic and remote.

It’s also a place that might not be around for much longer.

This week marks the release of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, which by Friday should give a prediction of how much, and when, sea levels will rise. For the island nation of the Maldives that isn’t just a warning, it’s an expiration date.Mohamed Nasheed, the former freely elected president who was expected to be re-elected until accusations of poll fraud suspended the vote, has long been a voice for the threats of climate change to his nation (he’s the guy that held an underwater cabinet meeting), warning that if the world stands by and does nothing, the Maldives will exist no more.

Tourism is one of the Maldives’ main industries, and many of the small islands are set up as luxury resort destinations. While today you can calmly walk, dipping your toes in the calm waters, the risk that these islands will become submerged is on a not so distant horizon.

The effects of climate change are already being felt here, and in an economy that depends on tourism, storms and freak weather can have a significant impact. From erosion to coral reef degradation, the islands are changing, and in big ways.

What’s the future of the Maldives? Only time will tell, but for now, the future does not look bright.

Delta Speeds Passengers To Their Flight In Sports Cars

We’ve all seen (or been) those passengers running through the airport, suitcase flying behind them, as they desperately try to make their connecting flight. Now, Delta Airlines has come up with a solution to get connecting passengers to their aircraft as quickly as possible — whiz them there in a Porsche.

Passengers that are running late for their next flight have been surprised to find themselves shuttled across the tarmac in a $50,000 luxury sports vehicle. Delta says Porsche donated eight of the cars as part of a marketing campaign, and the perk helps to keep fliers happy.But don’t get too excited yet — the service is only available to super elite frequent fliers, and even then, you have to be running really late for your flight. Although that’s just a small percentage of all air passengers, those frequent fliers who travel more than 125,000 miles per year are where the airlines make a lot of their money, so ensuring those customers are satisfied is good for business.

The Porsche rides program is currently available in Atlanta, but is being expanded to New York, Minneapolis and Los Angeles this month.

Get A Free Ride With Your New Car: European Delivery Programs

Like many longtime New Yorkers, I don’t own a car and know little about the finer points of purchasing or owning a vehicle. A recent Volvo ad caught my eye in an airline in-flight magazine: If you purchase your car and pick it up in Sweden, they’ll pick up the tab on your trip. A new car and free travel? This was something I could get behind! Doing some research, I discovered quite a few of the top European car makers offer an overseas delivery program.

While you’ll have to plan in advance (generally 3-4 months) to get your car and your trip, you’ll save on the vehicle cost, plus get to pick it up hot off the presses and drive it around European roads. Once you have it shipped to the U.S., you will wait another 8-10 weeks or so to be reunited stateside. Some programs include free airfare and hotel nights, most include factory tours, European road insurance and import/export fees.

Here’s a look at the most popular programs, including travel costs and savings.Audi (Germany)
Travel perks: European Delivery customers get 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa, chauffeured pick up from the Munich airport and a free night at a 4- or 5-star hotel near the factory. On the day you get your keys, you’ll visit the Audi museum and factory, with free meals and snacks all day. You then have two weeks to tool around Europe, with free drop off (by advance arrangement) at any one of 16 locations in Germany and western Europe.
Extra options: Serious Audi fans might consider an additional driving or race “experience” in summer or early fall (many of the winter events require special experience like driving in Scandinavia), where you can learn to drive like a pro, take on a racing circuit, or tour Europe in a luxury vehicle. It’ll cost extra, of course, from a few hundred euro per person. Note that all vehicles ready between November 1-April 15 must have winter tires installed at the factory, but that may be included in the cost of the car.
Car pricing: Audis are priced from $33,800, before the discount up to 5 percent off MSRP, except for the highest end models such as the R8 Spyder.

BMW (Germany)
Travel perks: You can get to Bavaria with 5-15 percent off airfares on Lufthansa. At the BMW Welt facility, you’ll get free museum and factory tours, and refreshments at the cafe. They’ll cover European road insurance for up to 14 days, then you can drop off your vehicle at one of 12 locations free, except Italy which has a supplement of up to 850 euro (must be those Italian drivers!).
Extra options: In addition to airfare, you’ll pay to get to the factory from Munich airport, as well as any hotels on your trip. As befitting a luxury automobile, BMW offers a range of luxury add-on trips designed to make the most of driving the Autobahn in the ultimate driving machine. (The “optional” note indicates they aren’t included free in the deal, but they are specially designed for BMW customers.) Winter deliveries will also require seasonal tires in Germany; it is possible to rent the winter tires if you don’t have them factory-installed.
U.S. pick up: Another option entirely is the Performance Center Delivery Program in Spartanburg, South Carolina. If you travel down south for your car, BMW will pay for your hotel and meals, plus a tour of its U.S. factory and museum, and best of all, professional driving instruction. You won’t get the savings you’d get on a European delivery, but the travel costs are much lower.
Car pricing: From $29,065 with savings, up to 7 percent on MSRP. See all models here.

Mercedes-Benz (Germany)
Travel perks: While airfare discounts aren’t included, you’ll get Mercedes’ travel assistance for booking your trip, airport transfers and one night hotel accommodations. When you pick up your car, you’ll have a tour of the factory and museums, meals at the delivery center, 15 days road insurance and a tank of gas to get you on your way.
Extra options: You can add a self-guided tour of the Black Forest or Alps at additional cost. Drop offs in Italy, England or Spain are additional (Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands are covered at no cost), and you’ll have to arrange for winter tires as with the other programs.
Car pricing: Vehicles from $35,800, with a 7 percent discount on MSRP.

Volvo (Sweden)
Travel perks: The best “deal” of the European Delivery programs, Volvo will include two round-trip plane tickets from the U.S. to Scandinavia (we’d assume Stockholm, but it’s 4-5 hours from the Volvo factory), one night in a hotel in Gothenburg, as well as the usual factory tour and road insurance.
Extra options: You will have to pay if you drop off or pick up anywhere other than the factory location, several hundred dollars or more, but it makes sense given the location of Volvo in Sweden as opposed to more central Germany. You may also see some seasonal charges: $150 per passenger supplement for summer flights, and the rental costs of snow tires between December and April. Volvo offers a variety of trips for more Scandinavian travel if you’d like to extend your trip.
Car pricing: Eligible Volvo models are from $31,420 after savings up to 7 percent on MSRP. See available models.

Bottom line: If you’re buying a new luxury vehicle, you likely aren’t a budget traveler. The savings even with free airfare, road insurance and a night at a nice hotel won’t likely offset what you’ll spend on the rest of your trip, let alone a car. However, if you are in the market for a slick new ride, driving it home on the Autobahn after seeing how it’s made is likely to be an unforgettable trip.

How Does Music Affect Your Hotel Decisions?

Music is becoming common on hotel websites, but does it really make us want to book a room?

A scientific study has come up with the answer: yeah, kinda. The journal Psychology of Music has published an article titled, “Congruency between instrumental background music and behavior on a website.”

As the author states in the abstract:

“Instrumental music (jazz and djembe) was played or not [played] while participants browsed the website of a well-known seaside resort and participants were instructed to select a type of accommodation. It was found that djembe music was associated more with a choice of outdoor accommodation while jazz music was associated with greater interest for hotel accommodation. Both music conditions showed a significant difference from the no music control condition. The ability of instrumental music to prime different memories and feelings is used to explain these results.”

So basically when we hear jazz we think of sipping bourbon in smoky interiors, while djembe makes us want to dance the night away in the moonlight. Um, OK.

Reading the article further, it turns out there’s a whole field of study devoted to figuring out what background music will do to our buying habits. Classical music makes us buy more expensive wines, for example, and playing French music will make us more likely to buy French wines. And here I thought the major determining factor was the physical attributes of my date.

The results of this study are pretty impressive. Eighty percent of the participants in this experiment picked a hotel room when they heard jazz, while 62.5% of the djembe listeners picked camping. For those who didn’t hear any music, 27.5% picked the hotel and 30% picked camping. It appears that mood music is aptly named.

Of course, hotel websites looking to get our money have to pick the right music. More often than not it’s some cheesy tune that makes us turn off the volume, or even worse for the hotel, click on another website. The annoyance factor is even higher if the music is clogging your slow connection or starts ringing out across your office, announcing to everyone that you’re slacking off.

So instead of spending money on music for their websites, perhaps hotels should spend more on music in their rooms. While Blind Willie McTell isn’t around anymore to play his 12-string guitar while you scarf down all the pillow mints, there are plenty of out-of-work musicians who would be happy to serenade you for a small fee.

Florblanca: Rock Star Luxury In Costa Rica

I was lying in a hammock with my two little boys, getting ready to sleep off lunch. We could hear the melodic, crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean on the golden beach at our backs and were enveloped in the luxurious shade provided by soaring trees on a perfectly toasty February afternoon. An invigorating breeze tempered the afternoon sun and my typical urge to habitually check my email had vanished. The world could wait.

I looked up into the trees directly above us and realized we weren’t alone: there were two families of howler monkeys looking down at us, one posse in each tree. They were just as curious about us as we were them. How can I describe the joy of escaping Chicago in the middle of a typically dismal, grey winter and finding refuge in an intimate, lush, tropical, ocean-side resort where the wild animals outnumber the people?

It wasn’t just the visual appeal of the place and the warm breeze that had me in a delightful reverie; it was all the music to our ears – the birds chirping, the waves rolling in and the monkeys emitting their surprisingly guttural, deep howls. Before we’d even officially checked into Florablanca, a small, 11 villa eco-resort in Santa Theresa, on Costa Rica’s glorious Nicoya Peninsula, I was already dreading leaving the place.

I’ve always been a budget conscious traveler. In my 20s, I traveled everywhere and always looked for the cheapest place in town to stay. I still believe that the best things in life, at home or on the road, are free. But now that I’m 40 (d’oh!) and with two kids (ages 3 and 5), I’ve gotten a lot softer and the type of I spent-less-than-you-did travel doesn’t hold much appeal to me any more.

These days, we tend to stay at mid-range accommodation options and, in most places, that means we rarely spend much more than about $100 per night, and often times much less. Occasionally, we’ll splash out on a nicer place, if we’re celebrating a special occasion, but only once in a blue moon will we stay at a truly world-class, luxury resort.

This year, I decided to treat my wife to a few nights at one truly glorious beach resort in Costa Rica and I chose Florblanca, because I read all the rave reviews of the place on Trip Advisor and I wanted to be near Santa Teresa. The town has emerged as a favorite for surfers over the last decade but it’s still pretty low-ley and completely free of big, tacky developments, thanks to its slightly hard to get to location.

A young lady in braces named Cindy came by our hammock to tell us our room was ready and it took a bit of coaxing to extract myself from our low-slung refuge. She led us through the grounds, which feel like a virgin tropical forest, and into villa number 5, which would be our home for what would be a glorious but fleeting 48 hours.

I’ve never seen a place quite like our villa before. Our bedroom had an intoxicating citrus aroma and a lovely four-poster bed with a ceiling fan inside it while the boys had a room of their own with two twin beds. Unlike many hotels, we had all kinds of light near the bed, which is important to me. The bedrooms were enclosed, but the living room and bathrooms were open air, giving one the feeling of being outside even while sitting inside. I was stoked to see that we had our own hammock on our terrace, where we could sway and listen to the monkeys in the shade.

The master bathroom had an open-air shower, tub and toilet protected by a half wall and huge trees but there is still a very liberating feeling about taking a shower or bath outside. I never sleep through the night anywhere, and on our first night at Florblanca, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to use the outdoor/indoor toilet and heard the unmistakable howl of the monkeys. In Chicago during the winter, when I have to use the bathroom during the night, the bathroom feels ice-cold coming from my warm blankets, but here I was coming from an air-conditioned bedroom into a warm, open-air bathroom. Simply awesome.

I learned that Florblanca is owned by Rusty and Susan Carter, an American couple from North Carolina who came to the place on a holiday in 2006, fell in love with it, and decided to buy it. The place is environmentally friendly and they give back to the local community. It was easy to see how they were seduced by the place. The seemingly endless stretch of beach that’s just steps away from the villas is heavenly and all of the trees and wildlife really do make the place feel like something pretty damn close to paradise.

The staff is an interesting mix of Americans who moved to the area to surf and locals. My 3-year-old son James fell in love with Cindy, who took the initiative to find him some beach toys, and every time she was out of his eyesight, he’d ask us, “Where did Cindy go?”

On our last day at Florblanca, I lounged in our hammock and fantasized about moving into villa numero cinco. I knew that eventually I was going to have to go back out into the real world, but I procrastinated until the last possible moment before grudgingly handing back the keys.

I don’t think I fully appreciated Florblanca until we arrived at our next hotel – a dark, nondescript motel-like place near Rincon de la Vieja that was depressingly like the kind of humdrum places we usually stay in. After checking in, I had an urge to call my new friends at Florblanca and tell them to come rescue us from the mediocrity we were mired in. If you want to treat yourself in Costa Rica, definitely check out and into Florblanca, but be forewarned – you’ll have a hard time going back to ordinary hotels when you leave.

IF YOU GO: We took a taxi from Manuel Antonio N.P. to Puntarenas ($125), then a one-hour car ferry and an hour long taxi to Florblanaca ($75). But you can get there much faster if you fly from San Jose into Tambor on Nature Air or another carrier.

Florblanca is by far the nicest place to stay in town but Santa Teresa has places for people with every budget. You can even sleep in a yurt on the beach if you like to rough it. We didn’t rent a car until we were about to leave town because car rentals in the area are pricey. (We ended up paying $280 for a two-day auto transmission SUV when we left town.) Taxis are also relatively pricey, but if you stay at Florblanca, you probably won’t want to leave that often – the food is excellent and you have a great pool and the beach right there.

Nonetheless, Budget and Alamo have locations in town and there’s also a local company called Toyota Rental Car. Great daytrips in the area include Montezuma, the Curu Wildlife Refuge and the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve among others.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]