Photo of the Day (7.20.10)

Think you can’t capture beautiful images with a mobile phone? Au contraire. This tranquil sunset shot uploaded by Flickr user Gus NYC was taken with an Apple iPhone in the waters of Saint Martin. The range of color, the light, & the serene water make me want to go explore the Caribbean right now.

Saint Martin is an island in the northeast Caribbean, currently divided 60/40 between the French & the Dutch. However, on October 10th of this year, the Dutch side of Saint Martin will become a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands; much like Aruba is today.

Have a mobile upload that we can’t miss? Put it up on Flickr and submit it to our Gadling Pool – it could just be our next Photo of the Day!

Valentine’s Day in St. Maarten – you’re worth it

Valentine’s Day is coming, folks. Don’t screw it up.

Even if you’ve spoiled your honey all year round, Valentine’s Day is a time to surprise your loved one with some wonderful gift that will make them feel all loved up. If the thought of forced gift-giving aggravates you, consider getting him or her something that is a gift for you, too. It may be a selfish tack, but everyone wins. A vacation gift is a great the best way to do this.

That brings us to the topic of St. Maarten. St. Maarten, which tends to be an absolutely perfect 75-86°F all year round, is home to two Sonesta 3-star beachfront resorts with “Seduction in St. Maarten” deals. Here they are:

Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino (pictured)’s Seduction in St. Maarten:

  • Round trip Transfers from Airport
  • Sparkling wine and chocolates in the room
  • In room dinner for two from a special menu (one per stay)
  • In room breakfast for two from a special menu (one per stay)
  • Nightly turndown service
  • 20% off Treatments at Good Life Spa.

Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino‘s Seduction in St. Maarten:

  • Ocean view accommodations
  • A bottle of champagne and Belgian chocolates upon arrival.
  • Romantic dinner for two in one of the resort’s restaurants (one glass of house wine per person included)
  • Free US$ 20.00 casino match bet per person
  • Daily Turn Down Service

The three-night packages are priced at $329 per room, per night for stays through April 3, 2010 and $229 per room, per night for stays April 4 to December 18, 2010. So, if you want the exceptionally good deal, book one for after April 4 and just tell your love-muffin (or whatever you call them) about the vacay on Valentine’s Day.

You should probably take them to dinner, too, though. Just sayin’.

What ever happened to the missing 22-year-old American teacher in Germany?

Reading that Laura Dekker has been found safe and sound in St. Maartin made me think of Devon Hollahan, the American teacher living in Prague who disappeared after a Portugal and the Man concert in Frankfurt, Germany. When his friend’s back was turned, Hollahan went missing.

I wrote about Hollahan in a post about the worst nightmares of parents whose children travel overseas. I’ve been busy these last few weeks, so I forgot about him until I read about Dekker.

Hollahan’s story is not so splashy as Laura Dekker’s. It might be because his family seems like most of us. They appear to be normal, regular people whose lives tend to flow through the days like anyone else’s unless something bad happens on a slow news day. On a slow news day, normal people’s stories can make the international news. Hollahan’s bad news story was a fleeting blip on the media radar. A day or two after he was reported missing, he didn’t show up again in a big news way.

Amanda Knox’s story has had more press time than Hollahan’s. She is the other person of note in my parent’s worst nightmare post. But, when a person is found guilty of murdering her roommate which results in a 27 year jail sentence in Italy, it’s no surprise that we’d hear more about Knox–at least until Tiger Woods’s story eclipsed everyone’s bad news.

What about Hollahan, though? That’s who I want to know about–the guy who could be any one of us. After a search, I found this bit of news in The Huffington Post. Hollahan has not been found, but possibly the shoe found floating in The Main River in Frankfurt belongs to him.

It is thought that Hollahan was drunk and fell into the river. As a sad, devastating part of this tale, it’s possible that he was seen alive at 4 a.m. lying on a sidewalk. Unfortunately, whoever was on the sidewalk, got up and ran away when someone said that an ambulance was coming.

Hollahan’s body has not been found. His parents are still in their nightmare, and I wonder if Hollahan’s body is found, will there be a news story about it? My thoughts go out to his family.

14-year old Dutch sailor goes missing, turns up in St. Maartin

Remember Laura Dekker? She’s the young Dutch girl who made headlines last summer for wanting to sail solo around the world at the age of 13, only to later be denied the opportunity by the Dutch government. At that time, it was decided that she would remain in the custody of her father, but under the supervision of the Council of Child Protection until her case could be reviewed next summer, once the school year had come to an end.

Late last week this story took another odd turn, when it was reported that the now 14-year old girl went missing, sparking all kinds of speculation in her native country as to her whereabouts. Her boat, the 26-foot long Guppy, remained safely in dock, but the local media was reporting that Laura had been spotted withdrawing 3500 Euros (roughly $5000) from her bank account. After that, she simply disappeared, without a trace.

That is until this weekend, when according to the BBC, the teenager was taken into custody on the island of St. Maartin in the Caribbean, after being recognized by a local. Exactly how she got there has yet to be determined, but yesterday it was reported that she ran away from home, apparently in reaction to being denied the option of sailing. Apparently she left her father a note before going, but the details of that note are also unknown.There is some speculation that she may have been hoping to find a boat and set sail on her own once she reached the Caribbean.

Laura is already on her way back home to the Netherlands, and it is unclear how authorities there will react to this little jaunt to the Caribbean. She was expressly forbidden to travel abroad without permission before her case was reviewed next year. I can’t help but think that this won’t help her case much.

I’ve written about Laura more extensively elsewhere, and I have always felt that 13 or 14 was too young for her to sail solo around the globe. I won’t deny that she has all the technical skills to be a sailor. The girl practically grew up on a boat, and her skills are, by all reports, highly developed. But that still doesn’t mean she should be turned loose on the ocean by herself. As I’ve said before, there are plenty of 14 year old kids who have the actual skills to drive a car, but that doesn’t mean I’d let them go on a cross country road trip by themselves.

I do respect Laura’s dream to sail around the world of course, but it does beg the question “what’s the hurry?” Can’t she wait a few more years and go when she’s gained more experience and maturity? Or is this simply a ploy to set some dubious mark as the youngest person to make such a journey? Is that a good enough reason to risk any teenager’s life?

So? What do you think? Should she be allowed to go? Are the high seas any place for a 14-year old by themselves? I’d love to have the Gadling readers weigh in with their thoughts.

More travel deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The folks over at the LA Times have rounded up a few more great travel deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And what better way to recoup from this most hellish of shopping weekends than by looking forward to a discounted vacation?

Shell’s Vacation Hospitality’s Black Friday Sale runs today with discounts of up to 50% off at 26 of its resorts located in Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas, Wisconsin, California, Mexico and Canada. Sample deals include a $79 per night room in Napa Valley, $84 per night on the Big Island of Hawaii, and $64 per night in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. There are some blackout dates around the holidays and the rooms must be prepaid and are nonrefundable.

Gap Adventures’ sale runs from Black Friday to Cyber Monday and offers 20% savings on selected tours. 12 days in Laos can be had for $999 per person, 8 days in Thailand is just $479, and 20 days in India is only $1099. Over 25 tours are discounted, and include locations in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and Europe. Prices don’t include airfare and are only valid on select departures in December, January, April and May.

Sonesta, a resort company that operates two properties on St. Maarten, is also offering 50% off for bookings made through Monday. The discount is valid for stays from December 18 to March 31. Stays over Christmas and New Year’s require a 5-night minimum, but at just $138 (down from the usual $275), the total price is much more affordable.