UPDATED: Back-to-back accidents mark tragic start for Antarctic cruise season
Plus: Discovering the rewards of wellness travel | Miraculous rescue in Gulf of Mexico | Biden Administration takes aim at hidden lodging fees
Scenic Eclipse in Antarctics -- Courtesy of TheHolyNougat
Happy first of December travel friends,
We hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday. Thankfully, it turned out to be much less chaotic for air travelers than many predicted.
Unfortunately, the news was not so good for the start of the increasingly popular expedition cruise season in Antarctica.
First, we learned that two passengers from the Quark Expeditions’ World Explorer died last month when their Zodiac boat capsized in Antarctica near Cape Lookout, Elephant Island, where water temperatures can reach minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (Source: SeaTrade)
Just days later, a mini submarine from the Scenic Eclipse, one of the growing number of new luxury expedition cruise vessels plying the region's frigid waters, encountered a “wind event” that forced it to abort its dive, according to SeaTrade. Ice floes then prevented it from resurfacing for what were, no doubt, a very tense two hours.
And this week, the Buenos Aires Times reports one passenger was killed and four injured after a rogue wave hit the Viking Polaris in the Drake Passage, breaking out several glass panels on the ship.
While Zodiac accidents are rare, one veteran leader of Antarctic cruises tells us that between the growing number of ships entering the market and the loss of many expedition team members to new careers during the pandemic, it’s become extremely difficult to find experienced crew.
According to QuirkyCruise, some two dozen expedition ships were scheduled to debut between 2019 and 2022. And some of those are luxury ships with new toys, like submarines and helicopters, which introduce new risks.
That's one of the reasons Silversea Cruises, which just launched its first Antarctic sailing of Endeavour – an expedition ship it purchased from the defunct Crystal Cruises – said it is shelving plans to add the two helicopters that Crystal had ordered for the vessel.
Silversea’s chief commercial officer, Barbara Muckermann, told Travel Weekly the helicopters were scrapped for several reasons, including cost and the potential impact on wildlife. But most importantly, she cited limited rescue resources and harsh climate conditions that could compound any problem.
TE Takeaway: All travel comes with risk, especially when you’re exploring brutal and unpredictable polar waters. Be sure to research travel companies, their safety records and crew member training protocols carefully. Study the itinerary, assess the risks and your own comfort level. Once onboard, get to know the expedition team and their credentials. And don’t be afraid to hand select which crew members you’re most comfortable getting in a Zodiac with.
Here's some of the other news we've been watching:
Miraculous rescue in the Gulf of Mexico – While reports of passengers falling overboard from cruise ships are more common than Zodiac accidents, they rarely have a happy ending. Last week, in what one rescuer characterized as a holiday “miracle,” the U.S. Coast Guard was able to rescue a man who went missing from the Carnival Valor on a sailing to Cozumel, Mexico. The man had last been seen by his sister as he left the bar about 11 p.m. on Wednesday. He was found alive and floating off the coast of Louisiana nearly 10 hours later.
Bye bye 1-800 lines? In what could be harbinger of things to come, ultra-low-cost Frontier Airlines this week became the first carrier to officially cut its customer service number, leaving passengers to rely strictly on digital communications. Sure, most of us are already doing that given the long hold times and increasing fees associated with booking or trying to get help the old fashioned way. Still, it portends a scary trend for consumers. But there is one big winner: chatbot software companies.
Biden Administration takes aim at resort fees. Travelers have been complaining for years about those pesky – and often expensive and well-disguised – extras like daily “resort fees” that pop up on their hotel bills. Finally, the Federal Trade Commission is talking about shutting them down. First, of course, the proposal has to go through a tedious rule-making process. We hope it works. You can share your thoughts with the government by clicking on Regulations.gov by Jan. 9, 2023. One citizen, Michael Mills, told the government to “Just level the playing field and have the sham fees eliminated.” TE Takeaway: Assert your rights and weigh in on the process!
Hawaii’s volcanic eruption boosts visits: Tourists are reportedly flocking to the Big Island to see the first eruption of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, in 40 years. Although lava fountains are spewing more than 145 feet high, sending molten rock onto a main highway, Gov. David Ige tells CNN that it’s safe to visit. It’s a good message to get out, given that Hawaii’s higher-spending Japanese tourist levels remain at just 25% of pre-pandemic 2019 levels.
Covid killed my India trip, but I found my silver lining
By Stephanie Mehl
As my long-awaited, month-long dream trip to India neared last month, it suddenly seemed daunting, thanks to a bout of long Covid.
Weakened with muscle pains, the classic loss of taste and smell and breathing problems, the air quality reports out of New Delhi and Mumbai scared the heck out of me. I realized that the journey would be challenging even in healthy times and was forced to make the painful decision to cancel. The disappointment of sending my husband alone on our adventure only made me more miserable. So what was I to do?
Stuck at home without a Plan B, I wracked my Covid brain for another destination – preferably one out of the country but not too far, and in a place that would be gentle and safe, yet still interesting.
Nothing felt right until I grew comfortable with the notion that healing on every level was paramount. So I switched gears and researched spa and wellness resorts – something I’d never considered, something I never needed.
I quickly learned that many spas are either ridiculously expensive, overly precious, too zen, depriving, even too corporate. I bypassed the famous (and pricier) ones like Canyon Ranch in Tucson and the Glass Door in San Marcos, California. I wound up booking Rancho la Puerta in Tecate Mexico, a 90-minute drive from the San Diego airport.
Mexico, here I come!
Although friends of mine had sung its praises, I had no expectations other than to get healthy, relax with an open mind and – hopefully – put my cell phone to sleep for the week.
The “Ranch” shuttle was waiting for me at the airport at one of several designated departure times and seamlessly shepherded myself and 30 other guests over the border, avoiding crazy Tijuana. Two hours later, we arrived at our destination. A group of highly organized staff members warmly greeted us and handed us our daily schedules, listing descriptions of a multitude of hourly classes, morning hikes, spa treatments, guest lectures and special evening programs. Shall we say summer camp for adults with simple but well-appointed upscale private casitas.
Started in the 1940s, Rancho La Puerta began as a primitive health camp that focused on the belief that nature, pure food and water, clean air, fitness and a fiery spirit led to good health. Still owned by the founding family and managed by the original owner’s daughter, the spa has grown into a stunning 4,000-acre retreat that boasts 40 miles of hiking trails – yet maintains its focus on helping guests balance physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Each day, I was encouraged to try new things and thoughtfully balance my activities. Among the firsts for me – a woman who hates getting up before 7 a.m. – was a sunrise hike before breakfast. I was rewarded with a delicious organic meal with a Mexican twist, which provided fuel for the pickleball lessons, yoga and meditation classes that followed.
After lunch, I attended a lecture entitled Discover Your Life Vision with a well-known life coach and therapist, certainly apropos a month post-retirement. I rounded out the day with a 90-minute massage and a sound-healing session.
And so the days went.
I indulged myself in the spa’s candy store-like menu of massages, acupuncture sessions and energy work. My favorite was Wasu therapy in a 98-degree pool, which was a transformational mix of shiatsu, movement and spiritual work. (What was happening to me?) I mixed it up, being careful to not overdo as the week progressed. Hard to do, but the muscle pains from non-use were quickly kneaded away by skilled hands.
The crowd was predominantly white women between the ages of about 55 and 70ish. Although I typically crave being with a more diverse group and people younger than myself, I had my daily meals with the most fascinating 83-year-old woman from France who will forever be my friend. Sharing healing experiences, global travel and food made it easy to bond with her and others.
To my surprise, I mostly locked up my phone and didn’t have a single withdrawal symptom! I felt free, very free, although I must confess to occasionally peaking at texts to make sure that my husband was safe while enjoying his travels across India. Oh yes… I almost forgot, wasn’t I supposed to be there too?
Spas and wellness travel are certainly not new. Though the pandemic has only bolstered demand for regenerative travel and the hunger for connection, nature and emotional well being. A recent survey from the Global Wellness Institute projects that the spa sector will grow annually by 17%. But the consumer will likely demand more than good massages and green juices moving forward.
I have not felt this grounded or healthy in a very long time. Reflecting on my daily activity schedule and journal that I’d kept during my stay (another new skill) reminds me what is possible. With a stronger body, new outlook and a relaxed mind, I am looking forward to what’s next.
It might be another trip to the Ranch (though I’m generally not one for repeat experiences and certainly will not and cannot be one of the ranch devotees making repeat visits throughout the year. One lady had been there 40 times!). Regardless, a future trip that prioritizes my body, my mind and my soul is now forever in my repertoire and I am grateful for the discovery.
New to Travel Essential? A few of our past editions:
LAS VEGAS -- Sin City's Covid-era makeover
BIKER CHIC -- Riding -- and dining -- with Harley-Davidson!
ALASKA -- How close can you get to an iceberg?
ALBUQUERQUE – Where you can see 600 hot-air balloons in the sky
CARIBBEAN -- Our new favorite (lesser-known) island
WINDY CITY -- Chicago, Chicago, That toddlin town
EUROPE – Sailing the Rhine River, despite low water levels
GREENSBORO -- An unexpected delight in North Carolina
And don't hesitate to share your feedback or travel stories with us! Email us at [email protected].