In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Could Cuba be back on the US tourist schedule?
For more than 50 years American airlines have been banned from flying to Cuba because of Washington’s strict embargo against commercial dealings with its Communist foe.
But now there are hopes that the sanctions could be eased – and direct flights resume – thanks to a deal between Sir Richard Branson’s airline and the American carrier, Delta.
Virgin Atlantic is currently 49 per cent owned by Singapore Airlines. Delta, the world’s biggest carrier, is bidding for that stake. If and when almost half the airline becomes US-owned, Virgin will continue with its thrice-weekly jumbo jet from Gatwick to Cuba. A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said: “We have no plans to cancel flying to Havana”.
At Delta’s Atlanta headquarters, the planned minority ownership of an airline serving Cuba is not regarded as an issue according to a spokesman for the airline. The confidence that the Virgin’s Havana connection will continue has led to speculation that the Obama administration is preparing to ease the long-standing embargo.
Chris Parrott, director of the specialist travel firm, Journey Latin America, said: “One would imagine that Delta has spoken to people in power rather than just going ahead on a commercial basis”. Trying to book a flight to Havana on a US-owned website is currently either frustrating or amusing, depending on your degree of impatience. When you tap in “Havana” as your destination, Travelocity.co.uk instructs “Verify the location is a valid airport or city”.
Neither does Expedia.co.uk recognise the Cuban capital, offering 10 alternatives airports “with a similar name” – all of them scattered across the state of Hawaii
Skiing in Japan: small but beautiful
Japan has many winter micro resorts. Our writer escapes the crowds and finds untracked slopes and perfect powder.
Japan boasts some 600 ski resorts and the top sites, such as Niseko, are now well known to an international clientèle. But the lion’s share of skiing in Japan goes on at local hangouts where, although the slopes aren’t always steep, the runs are cheap and it’s possible, if you time it right, to find your own personal powder hill.
The Japanese did to ski resorts what they did to cars, cameras and computers: miniaturised them. During Japan’s postwar boom, the new middle-class wealth fuelled a ski craze and developers began cutting down trees and putting up ski lifts anywhere they thought they could. Which in Japan is almost everywhere – three-quarters of the country is mountainous and it is blessed with some of the most reliable and heavy snowfall in the world. Even the smallest hills, some just a few hundred metres above sea level, can offer skiing come winter.
Hundreds of these micro ski areas sprang up all over the country, from the sub-arctic island of Hokkaido all the way down to the subtropical island of Kyushu. Many were family-run, and often consisted of little more than a one-man chairlift, a gentle 200m slope and a shed selling tickets. Yet such was the thirst for snowsport that these micro resorts were inundated with eager skiers.
Long queues and short runs were a common complaint, but times have changed. The runs haven’t grown any longer, but the queues are much shorter. In fact, in many of Japan’s micro resorts, the crowds have disappeared altogether. When Japan’s economy faltered in the early 1990s, the ski industry suffered. While the largest ski areas found a new market with western skiers, Japan’s smallest resorts began to struggle.
Second norovirus cruise ship returns to port
A second cruise liner hit by the norovirus vomiting illness has arrived back in the UK.
The Azura docked in Southampton this morning and was leaving later for a 12-night Christmas cruise to the Canaries.
P&O Cruises said: “There has been an incidence of a mild gastrointestinal illness among the passengers on Azura.
“This illness is suspected to be norovirus, which is highly contagious and typically transmitted from person to person. Norovirus is common throughout the UK, Europe and North America and has affected a number of schools, hospitals, nursing homes and children’s day care centres.”
The ship had been on an 11-night Iberia cruise. There were 3,059 passengers on board, of whom ten are known to be suffering symptoms.
Another P&O liner, the Oriana, was dubbed “a plague ship” after it was struck by the virus.
The ship, which carries 1,843 passengers, returned to Southampton yesterday from a 10-day Baltic cruise and left last night for a 23-night cruise in the eastern Mediterranean.
Scores of passengers were laid low by the virus.
During the cruise, passenger Paul Gilman, 62, told the Daily Mail: “People were falling like flies, yet the crew were trying to insist everything was fine.
“Everyone is saying, ‘this is a plague ship’. It’s a living nightmare.”
Chile’s tallest building casts a shadow
The skyline of Santiago, Chile has been altered by the tallest skyscraper in South America, one that casts a shadow two kilometres long.
The 70-storey Gran Torre Costanera Centre, a giant that dwarfs the city’s other skyscrapers, overwhelms the view of a city founded in 1541 by Spanish conquistadors and that remains proud of its colonial-era buildings.
Workers completed the top floor of the nearly $US1 billion ($A940,000) structure in February, and in March 2013 tenants are expected to start moving in.
The 300-metre tall Gran Torre is not as tall as New York’s Empire State Building (443 metres) and is less than half the size of the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (828m). But it is significantly taller than the other regional giant, the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City (293m).
A six-floor shopping mall has also risen next to the Gran Torre, and three other skyscrapers – two high-end hotels and an office building – are going up nearby.
The Gran Torre was built to withstand earthquakes – Chile, located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, is especially prone to powerful quakes. The building came through with flying colours in February 2010, surviving the 8.8-magnitude quake that devastated much of south-central Chile with no structural damage.